By Rory Winston
“My life like a rocket makes a parabola,” wrote Andre Voznesensky in an early ballad that describes how artists often get to their intended destination but not in the way they imagined. At a symposium, the renowned poet admitted to his own life’s unique trajectory: As a student of architecture, he created blueprints for a museum’s wing. But the school of architecture caught fire, his thesis and plans went up in flames, and he soon gave up his studies, embarking upon a new career as a fulltime poet. Many years and publications later, he was awarded a prestigious prize. The ceremony in his honor was held in a newly inaugurated wing of a museum. It turned out to be the very wing he had once attempted to design. Although his drawings had burnt, and it was another architect who designed the wing, Voznesensky was being celebrated in his predestined location.
Spaces have their stories, and, whether by sheer coincidence or subconscious emotional attachment, certain people are drawn to certain spaces. In the case of Chef Polo Dobkin, his venue of choice is the one that formerly hosted Dressler and now hosts his Meadowsweet. Under the ownership of the late Colin Devlin – the generous restaurateur whose untimely death made headlines – Dressler made Brooklyn history by being one of the five restaurants in the borough to receive a Michelin Star. This distinction was in great part due to Chef Dobkin’s talent. His unwavering dedication ensured that the honor was bestowed six consecutive years in a row.
Despite culinary recognition, Dressler eventually closed. Devlin was in financial straits and the restaurant was unsustainable. But something about the venue ate at Dobkin; and in less than a year, he returned to the site. Not as a hired gun this time, but – together with his wife, Stephanie Lempert (of Al Di La Vino) – as the owner.
The venue needed light, light and more light. Dressler’s patina look was expunged; a new airy feel of rustic tones, wood, baquettes and blanched brick wall would now prevail. A small herb garden was inserted – its contents perfect for piquing the house cocktails created by Jerry Adona and Stephanie.
Meadowsweet sports an eclectic menu with a ‘raw and cured’ category – this includes treats like smoked trout accompanied by crepe, bitter greens and horseradish. Likewise, scallop ceviche arrives with avocado and cilantro and makes for an enticing opener. As for the ‘snack’ group, try bourbon infused ribs – the dish swaggers between zesty, sweet and balmy, and confers a heady sensation.
As is often the case with appetizers nowadays, they are an archipelago of choices, making a convincing case for jettisoning the entrees and spending the evening island-hopping between flavors: A Spanish octopus glistens in basil oil lying across pebble-smooth white beans alongside a crisp chorizo shoreline draped in piquillo peppers. For another approach, try the ivory world of hand-rolled cuscino – it’s entrails like a cavern filled with fresh ricotta surrounded by an underwater lagoon of buttery parmesan with floating peas and pea shoots. But whether you head for the sea with day boat scallops or hop ashore with braised rabbit on a meadow of fava beans, it’s unlikely your palate will get bored.
When it comes to entrees, plancha marina with seared scallop, seppiolini, shrimp, piperada and aioli is a seasonal ode to Catalan cuisine. Black sea bass with artichoke, baby carrots, fennel and labneh is another signature dish that owes as much to American playfulness as it does to a Mediterranean sensibility. Let’s just say, many of these belong to international waters. For landlubbers, there’s the sumptuous roasted chicken with gnocchi, escarole, roasted tomato, maitake and pancetta; and for fuller fare, the grilled hanger steak with Jerusalem artichoke, spinach, onion jam and – that final note punctuating the earthy texture – chanterelles and bordelaise.
With tantalizing desserts like lemon thyme panna cotta with grilled apricots and pistachio brittle, or refreshing ones like Pain Perdu with blackberry compote and coffee ice cream, it doesn’t take long to understand why Jared Rubin is Dobkin’s pastry chef. Both are perfectionists as much as they are matter-of-fact in presentation and neither distracts with unnecessary flavors or embellishments.
Meadowsweet is Brooklyn – the Brooklyn of hipsters, the Brooklyn of immigrants that first came there from all over Europe, and the Brooklyn of today that seems to smack ever more of Manhattan. Okay so it might as well be a view from the bridge, with the bridge leading from Brooklyn to just about anywhere in the world.
Is Dobkin on his way to earning yet another Michelin Star for Williamsburg? Well, with or without the designation, it’s evident that his restaurant is a rarity in its own right. As trajectories for parabolas go, this one looks very much like the end of a long and beautiful rainbow.
Brooklyn, NY 11211