Five stars for a place that hasn’t even officially opened yet is a giddy amateur move on my part. But if the sheer skill & savvy Black Cat Bistro’s Eric Skokan & crew showed throughout their friends & family kickoff is indeed a sign of things to come—& one imagines it is—then Bramble & Hare is gonna see my bet & raise it twofold.
It’s all about the little things here: tiny rustic space, small plates (supplemented by a daily-changing 3-course prix-fixe), innumerable background details—like the fact that the clay on the walls is mixed with hay from Skokan’s barn or that his wife stuffed the pillows lining the banquette with wool from their own-raised lambs. (As if “chef-restaurateur-farmer” weren’t enough of a hyphenate for Skokan, he added “general contractor” to the mix while building out the new space.) You also can’t quite tell by looking that the “all-star team” he’s hand-picked to cook here hail from all over—Atlanta, Chicago, Maine. But you can definitely tell by tasting that it all adds up to something special.
I mean, this is just ridiculous.
The rib is cut from a heritage breed Skokan’s helping to breed back from near-disappearance, with good reason—its rare flesh simply melts away. (Perhaps the pigs spontaneously deliquesced.) Of course, it first fills your mouth with such complex, smoky richness that I told Skokan I don’t think I’ve ever had a better rib—not at a barbecue joint, not at a Korean eatery, nowhere. And I wasn’t just kissing his ass, I meant it—notwithstanding the fact that what originally sold me on the dish were the pressure-cooked pork-skin “noodles” bathed in Sichuan-spiced jus. A dab of them pure-fat apples’ll do you.
Of course, Skokan’s commitment to not just whole-animal but whole-vegetable sustainability is evident at every turn. Take the farm chips: last night’s beet & turnip crisps were just the tip of a bowl that may, at any given time, include fried kale, Jerusalem artichokes, chicken skin, or pig’s ears: “Whatever we have that’s in season, we’ll turn into chips,” he promises.
Pictured in back is yet another winner: chilled, roasted turnips tossed with broccolini & cabbage in a star-anise vinaigrette—such a smart touch, bringing out a whole new side of the earthy veggies.
Granted, the veggies alone had a way of bringing out a whole new side of themselves: a cold soup special of carrots & the whey leftover from housemade ricotta, though seasoned only with S&P & lemon juice, possessed a distinct, almost cinnamony spiciness. Skokan surmised that the recent heat spike may have concentrated certain flavor compounds in the carrot patch.
So the list of hits—most fully realized, a few potential—went on, & on, & on, from the steamed bun filled with chopped beets alongside a dollop of beet-dusted chèvre mousse that called to mind my beloved gnocchi di prugne
to gorgeous, giant Hama Hamas on the half-shell with kimchi vinaigrette
to duck liver mousse-filled sourdoughnuts with grapefruit marmalade
to a killer special of perfectly cooked pork shoulder over the silkiest, poppiest little pearls of couscous ever (plus yet more turnips! Can’t get enough of those)
to, finally, a juicy, fruity as opposed to sugary yet heartily streuseled wedge of cherry tart.
That’s still not all: while the craft beer & cocktails flow, Dev’s carefully curated wine list is not to be dismissed—chock-full of all the Zweigelts & Teroldegos & boutique Lambruscos to stir an oenophile’s cockles. Nor is the keen service (courtesy last night of on-the-ball Tyler).
Sure, this is one of those occasional googly-eyed Dear Diary accounts wherein I suddenly pull back to add a steely disclaimer: I came as a guest, not an anonymous reviewer. My experience can’t be separated from my familiarity with the staff or my prior admiration for Skokan’s work—at least not by me. It’s up to you to validate my vote of confidence (or not, for that matter). Keep me posted.