If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen at Ugly Baby, which cranks out some of the spiciest Thai food you will ever eat in New York City. Chef Sirichai Sreparplarn intentionally keeps the spice levels high to authentically reflect how food is seasoned in Thailand, and guests must accept the dishes as is with no modifications. There’s heat in almost every single item, so get ready to sweat it out and down pitchers of water if dinner here is in the cards in the near future.Read More
I started panicking as I waited nearly 15 minutes for the F train to arrive. I didn’t want to be late for my dinner reservation at Take Root in Carroll Gardens, but it seemed like the predictably unreliable weekend service delays were going to make me tardy. Luckily, the train arrived just in the nick of time, and as soon as it stopped at Carroll St, we ran all the way to the restaurant.
As I ran down the street, it struck me how residential everything looked. I felt like I was trying to find someone’s house for a dinner party. And I think that best describes the ambiance of Take Root. When we finally arrived, breathless, we entered a tiny 12-person dining room, with about 4 seats at the bar and 4 tables out front. It was very cozy inside, and specifically the word hygge came to mind, a Dutch term that roughly means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life in that glow.
Chef Elise Kornack and her wife Anna Hieronimus are the only two people running the tight ship at Take Root, which probably explains why there is such limited seating, and why the restaurant only offers one seating each day, Thur-Sat. There was a pretty interesting article on Grub Street that details how the two women manage their time planning, buying, and housekeeping for the restaurant. But don’t think that this is some bootstrap restaurant startup that’s scrambling to serve half-baked dishes to its customers. Elise Kornack is extremely talented, and her 10-course tasting menu is one of the most interesting and rewarding ones that I’ve had in recent memory. She won a Michelin star this year, and she is totally deserving of it.
The menu is seasonally driven and features mostly vegetables, and yes, that certainly is nothing new in a farm-to-table obsessed town, but Kornack has a knack for creating unbelievable chemistry between two or three of the most basic ingredients. And her plating is really clean and very pretty. The most visually stunning dish was the Yukon Gold course, which featured small potato halves that had been scooped out in the middle in the manner of an egg, unleashing a bounty of luscious, liquid cream that resembled an extremely refined Ranch dressing. You derive the same pleasure eating these cream-filled potatoes as you do a Cadbury egg on Easter day.
The beetroot was also plated beautifully, and the spiral patterns in the thin beet slices on top reminded me somewhat of those whimsical and intense Yayoi Kusama polka dot paintings. Drawing you further in was the presence of smoke, yolk and kumquats in the garden of beetroots. Chefs tend to play up a beet’s earthiness, so the fact that a citrus element was incorporated was a novel and successful departure.
While vegetables are prominent on the menu, proteins are also prepared with similar skill and precision. The lamb dumplings, which were part of the pre-tasting course small plates, were deliciously gamey, and they arrived on top of a thick, dense black garlic sauce that could truly stand up to the strong flavors of the lamb. Anjou pears grabbed your attention with the intense chicken liver inside their core, creating a perfect dichotomous nugget of cool, crisp fruit with wild, funky offal.
I found that the seafood here tends to be more elegant and soft spoken than their land brethren. The trout, for instance, was very clean and simple, almost sashimi like, and it was the strip of salty, fatty duck on top that really threw the punch. Similarly, the paddlefish caviar wasn’t as briney or fishy as most fish eggs tend to be. Perhaps this was to be more of a supporting member to the sunchoke, whose sweet, nutty flavor rose to the surface.
They saved the best for last, which in this case was a bowl of beluga lentils cooked in coffee and ham hock, and topped with black truffle. It arrived looking very dark and ferocious, like a scene out of Snow White and the Huntsman, and I was at first a bit intimidated by it. But as soon as I had a bite, I had to take a moment, because I was overwhelmed by how good it was–these lentils were robust, smokey, savory and rich, and I’ve never had anything quite like them.
After the last course, a palate cleansing pre-dessert of grapefruit ice shavings over labneh yogurt arrived, followed by a white chocolate parfait sprinkled with crunchy wheatberries and served with a cranberry puree. I’ve noticed a recent trend in which the sweetness of desserts is getting downplayed, and Take Root seems to embrace this less is more approach. The white chocolate resembled more of a mild panna cotta, and the sharp sourness of the cranberries cut the sweetness even more. It wasn’t as show-stopping as the savory courses, but it was balanced and restrained. Those with a traditional sweet tooth might be slightly disappointed, though.
Dinner service came to an end in two hours, but it felt shorter than that. You really have to give credit to Kornack and Hieronimus for timing everything perfectly–dishes arrived without any significant lags or downtime. As is the case with really good dinner parties, you don’t really want to leave once you’re done, you just want to drink and linger. Especially when there’s a lot of easy-listening Fleetwood Mac on the background. Unfortunately, a lot of other people are waiting in line to get in this party, and so if you want to return for a visit, you’ll have to check online exactly a month in advance of the date you actually want. Good things are worth waiting for, however, and I’ve already scheduled a reminder to check in for any spring seatings.
187 Sackett St
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Online reservations here.
$105 per person