The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
Bloomfield and her business partner, Ken Friedman, won an unexpected Michelin star for this kind of sweaty, nose-to-tail cooking at their original West Village gastropub, the Spotted Pig. But the Breslin, which opened late last year in the Ace Hotel, on West 29th Street, is their most high-profile project to date. Ambitious restaurants used to plaster the walls with artful frescoes and hang glittering chandeliers from the ceilings. But to attract attention these days, you need a battered old saloon-style bar up front, like the one that’s been installed at the Breslin, and lots of carefully rummaged junk-store memorabilia (pictures of cows, deer antlers, porcelain figurines of pigs, etc.) scattered around the room. The waiters at the Breslin wear T-shirts, and many of them sport tattoos. The booths in the dining room are fitted with black and green leather banquettes, like a dive bar in Red Hook, and the tables are covered with butcher paper instead of linen. The cracked ceilings look the way they did when the building was still an SRO, and the room is shrouded in carefully calibrated neo-speakeasy gloom.
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
In 2008, she and Ken Friedman, her partner in the Pig and now in the Breslin, opened the John Dory, a fish house in a narrow space on lower 10th Avenue. The restaurant didn’t work, but not because anyone faults the pairing of butter and fish. The partners spent about 30 seconds back on their heels. John Dory closed at the end of August 2009. The Breslin opened in October.
And it won’t, as it happens. The Breslin is the sort of restaurant you end up thinking about a lot, not always pleasantly, staring up at the ceiling at 3 in the morning in cold sweat and mild panic. Yes, the food is good. But it is monochromatically good: it is 10 colors of fat. Excess can become wretched, and fast. It’s cool to hook up with the Breslin, especially if you’re lucky enough to sit in one of the semiprivate nooks near the open kitchen. But we should see other people. It would be death to be a regular there.
The Breslin provides room service for the Ace Hotel. It is certainly pleasant to lie in one of the beds there, upstairs from the restaurant and nestled into a warm Pendleton blanket, looking out the window at the faux-Parisian top of Gilsey House across the street. To do so amid the detritus of a Breslin meal — that onion soup, for example, followed by a rich beef burger and fries, along with a can of Porkslap ale — is bliss.
As we march, wearily, into the new decade, assorted gastro-bloggers, tweetheads, and old-line culinary gasbags like me have been dutifully pontificating on the future of posh big-city dining in this post-boom era of comfort-food madness and general thrift. But if you want to glimpse firsthand how the obsessions of the old-school food world have shifted from four-star soufflés to a more elemental style of cooking, do what I did the other day and take one of your classically attuned food-snob friends to April Bloomfield’s latest gastro-grub outlet, the Breslin Bar & Dining Room. Braised beef shins appear on Bloomfield’s menu, as do many trendy, predictably heart-stopping iterations of pig, including a fried trotter the size of a small canoe. But the dish my friend focused her refined palate on was the headcheese (a.k.a. skull meat), which Bloomfield fries in little bonbon-size nuggets. She popped one in her mouth and savored it for a time in rapturous, even priestly silence.
My favorite time to visit the Breslin is at lunch, when there’s slightly less heaviness to the menu and the room has a lighter, more convivial feel. To experience the full knockout force of Bloomfield’s supremely comforting, irredeemably English desserts, however, go at dinnertime, when the roster of
It is also the Breslin on a Saturday night, and on a Tuesday night, whenever you come in the door in darkness and hunger. The restaurant takes no reservations; it celebrates a democracy of the committed. Save for at breakfast, over pancakes and Stumptown coffee, the restaurant is almost perpetually jammed.
It’s faster to sleep that way, for one thing, and since there’s no pig’s foot on the room-service menu, there actually will be sleep. The Breslin is great for burgers and beer. In the morning, back in the dining room, there is steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar and cream. The Sex Pistols are on the stereo, softly. For a moment, all is right with the world.
At night, out in the bar, people dance in place, drink amber cocktails, listen to music that bounces smartly between rock and hip-hop. They wait endlessly for tables to clear. Their faces — mustachioed, unlined or dusted with glitter, behind geek glasses or Edie-style eyeliner — are filled with anticipation. At the tables in back, as they stare down shins and stomachs, sticky bits and syllabubs, they look a little scared.