There’s something primal and pure about cooking things over an open fire. You’re exposed to the elements, a slave to the whims of the fire, without modern appliances to tone things up or down. Food cooked in this manner is never perfect, always coming out a little blistered or charred, which seems like it could be frustrating for type-A chefs who want to completely control the outcome of the dish. So when I heard that Metta, a new restaurant in Fort Greene, would specialize in wood-fire cooking, and that it wouldn’t be a bbq or pizza restaurant, which we expect to be a little rough around the edges, I was intrigued to pay them a visit.
I have to admit I was also heavily influenced by the news that the chef of Metta, Norberto Piattoni, was a protege of the famous Francis Mallmann, an Argentinian chef known for his open-flame cooking techniques. I watched the Netflix Chef’s Table profile on Mallmann, which shot him wearing ponchos in various spots in the South American wilderness manning these massive bonfires and spits of meat around him. I was curious to know if that same sort of atmosphere could be recreated by Piattoni in Brooklyn.
Of course that’s hard to do in a modern, 4-wall restaurant setting. But even still, Metta feels a little different from your typical charming neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn. Something about the place makes you feel like you are upstate somewhere. The decor feels a little antique-y, like something you see in those old timey shops that line the streets of Hudson, NY. And it could very well be seeing those visible flames flaring up in the oven. You might see this in the country somewhere, less so in the city.
The way fire leaves its mark on the food at Metta varies from the obvious to the subtle. The coal-charred flatbread, as the name suggests, is black and blistered about the edges, making it clear the manner in which it was cooked. It comes with a bean spread, so if you like really good hummus and your bread on the toastier side, this will do the trick. The smashed potatoes, on the other hand, looked about as perfect as something that came out of a more controlled kitchen setting. The flavors were undeniably perfect as well. We swooned over the incredible flounder taramasalata cream sauce that draped the perfectly golden and crispy tubers on top, a trifecta of salty, briney and starchy flavors that seemingly could not be outdone by anything else.
Except the hits kept coming. Like the crispy lamb in a sour cucumber-squash puree. This dish felt new and exciting, as it’s rare to have lamb served in a tangy soup with sunflower seeds, but it made so much sense once you tried it. And another, in the form of the grilled short ribs, whose meat was so flavorful that I kept helping myself to more and more pieces until every last bit of tendon was off of the bone.
And yet they all can’t be hits either. The freekeh risotto was a rare misstep, tasting stale and soggy, with heavily earthy flavors that could have benefited from some counterbalance. The parsnip cake with lovage ice cream was also something I could have done without, which tasted too much like a vegetable and herb garden and not enough like a sweet dessert. But the highs at dinner were so high that they more than made up for the few lows. Metta at the moment still feels like a neighborhood restaurant, but as word gets out I’m sure it will quickly evolve into a packed destination spot.
197 Adelphi St (between Myrtle and Willoughby Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11205