We’d landed at Kennedy a mere 2 hours earlier, but that was already an hour & 59 minutes longer than I’d been prepared to wait for an East Coast oyster after so many months away. So as the Director & I wandered the streets near our borrowed apartment in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, I vowed to stop at the very 1st place we came across that advertised them.
Thus it was that we stumbled into Woodland, bustling, breezy & streamlined in light earthtones—like 50 other eateries within a 2-block radius. But no matter—so long as it served my babies on the half-shell, I didn’t care what sort of generic gastropubby grub it was hawking.
It was only after we grabbed stools & ordered drinks at the bar that I gave the rest of the menu more than a passing glance—& suddenly the oysters were the least of my cravings. There were pulled pig’s-head croquettes & steak fries with anchovy dip; there was a dandelion green–grilled apricot salad with rye bark & pickled-sunchoke vinaigrette & a stew of clams, crawfish & sausage with maple sap, cayenne & carrot frites. From lowbrow to high, it was all so admirably savvy. I had a good feeling about the place, sure to be confirmed by a quick Google on the old smartphone.
What I found, however, reminded me I was but a babe in these parts: the locals surrounding us, undoubtedly, knew the place had opened just weeks ago in the eye of a neighborhood battlestorm with all sorts of nasty racial overtones.
Had I known that much in advance, I might have kept walking (not that said ugliness was the restaurant’s doing, but still). However, now it was too late; I was hooked on my high hopes for the kitchen. And about that, at least, I was spot-on.
Forget the oysters. Oysters are oysters. So long as they’re properly shucked & on ice with lemon wedges, I’m happy. It was the smoked quail eggs we threw in on a whim that made my head swivel on its stalk: carefully cooked so the white was structured but the yolk still gooey, their delicacy only highlighted by the earthy tinge of wood fire. A slight hint of tartness too—maybe a drop of vinegar?
The clincher was the board of green-olive semolina bread with what may be the best compound butter I’ve ever had. The server, we thought, said it was almond butter, but that didn’t seem quite right; the bartender insisted it was green-onion, which seemed flat-out wrong. It wasn’t exactly nutty, nor merely honeyed; its sweetness was subtle & complex, not least for the contrastive sprinkling of black sea salt on top…well, whatever it contained, it was addictive.
No less so on our return visit a few nights later, when the flavoring had changed—I want to say to saffron—along with the breads, this time golden-raisin semolina & dark-raisin rye, arriving alongside our “trapper’s snack”: a bit of excellent prosciutto & stinky cheese alongside housemade beef jerky that was perfectly tender-chewy, perfectly seasoned, perfectly jerky.
Fried whitebait: it’s the new, head-on, gobble-it-whole french fry, here served with radish remoulade that looked startlingly like strawberry yogurt but tasted like its zingy mayo-based self.
And late-spring sprightliness suffused an entrée of pulled rabbit braised in Riesling, tossed with fresh pasta, mirepoix & herbs, & finally flavored with a hint of licorice root.
Given Woodland’s farm-to-urban-table bent, it’s no surprise that the bar program hews to a certain earthy, carefully sourced sensibility: cocktails with loads of fresh fruit & herbs, funky boilermakers, draft cider, Long Island wine, etc. Just the stuff, in short, to take the edge off any remaining resident resentment.