Another warm dreamy day, even as the thermometer crawls upwards again this week. Swung by the farmers market for fuzz-rasped, sweet juice-dripping peaches and more tomatoes, and then another long walk to the garden to gaze contemplatively at the salvia and the purple basil. The people walking by on the other side of the fence must think I’m a little, well, strange, since mostly what I do in the garden is roll back on my heels and simply stare at my little plants. With a box that’s maybe 2 feet square, once you turn the hose on for a few minutes, there’s not much to do, really. Pinch up the odd teeny weed, fret over the browning nasturtiums (which actually produced one blazing orange flower, even as the rest of the plants, all pale and feeble, looked like rapidly sinking sanatorium inmates from The Magic Mountain), will encouragement to the stumpy pepper's fistfuls of tightly clenched flower buds. After that, I just ogle and bask.
But not for too long, because it was time to slide into one of those hot-weather H&M dresses (this one the sweet but slinky black chiffon number with skinny ribbon edging) and head down to Red Hook for Amy’s birthday dinner at 360. The place was sunny and empty when we arrived for our 15-person, 6pm reservation—narrow banquettes, wood-paneled walls, French dishtowels for napkins, a small sign reading "life is just a bowl of pork chops" next to some anti-Bush stickers. Orange chairs? Maybe, or I could be making that up. The menu is short and yep, seasonal, with three choices in each category on the $25 prix fixe menu, plus a bunch of a la carte options, including a green salad from the very local Added Value city farm, a Red Hook greens-growing operation that uses youth from the neighborhood to grow and sell mixed lettuces at Brooklyn farmers markets.
The food reminded me very much of San Francisco—lovely ingredients unfussed-with, with the results pristine if a smidge underseasoned. As with a dinner at Fort Greene’s Ici last year, 360’s offerings were lovely, but a little more recklessness—and quirky genius-- in the kitchen could lift it from good to partytime in your mouth. Carrot and radish soup was a gorgeously bright orange but tasted more of radish than sweet carrot, with an overwhelmingly rooty radish bouquet that gave a certain, less than appealing eau-de-vegetable-drawer to the cool liquid. A chunk of wild sea bass had a fantastic crunchy browned skin and a pleasant-enough light broth around it, dotted with green and Romano beans and slivers of artichoke and fresh basil. Nice, but white food compared to the beefy, salty, excellent onglet steak. Slightly dry-looking slices of pork loin came with tangy plum chutney and a tangle of shiny but completely unseasoned collard greens. But the wines are excellent—a short but really cool list of mostly French, organic and biodynamic small producers for prices that rarely exceed $20-$35 a bottle. Service --unsmiling and perfunctory from one slightly scruffy guy in an orange T-shirt, and pleasant and almost friendly from the big bearded guy.
Then we strolled through the very quiet cobblestoned streets to Lillie’s to sit outside in the funky back garden (a lot like an East Coast version of SF’s El Rio, only with a tiny pond and tiki bar and without a lemon tree). Across the street was a tall brick warehouse wall decorated with what looked like graffiti but were actually delicate, lacy paper cutouts of the flora and fauna of spring put up by local artists on the first warm day earlier this year, when an impromptu vernal parade wound through the streets. “That’s where the Ikea’s going to be,” a guy outside the bar told us as we gazed at the flock of hawks and bees and dragonflies flitting across the brick. “Right there.” Wandering through the streets on an impromptu tour of the waterfront later that night with warm arms of silence wrapped around us...into the warm summer darkness, with a dusky gold curve of moon hanging low over the silhouette of an abandoned sugar factory, we could hear nothing but crickets. On the other side of a flaking, vine-twined fence drifted the faint clank and chime of the buoys rolling in the shimmering flat river.
Now, the girls up at cripple creek 'bout half-grown, jump on a boy like a dog on a bone...
Roll my britches up to my knees, wade old cripple creek whenever I please...
360, 360 Van Brunt at Sullivan St, Bklyn. 718.246.0360
Lillie's, 46 Beard St at Dwight, 718. 858.9822