Le Garage: When in (Bushwick), do as the French do

Typically, when you see people running the opposite direction you‘re going, the safe bet would be to 180° and join the herd. There’s likely a tidal wave rolling in from your intended destination. That, or it’s Godzilla (who is admittedly a woefully misunderstood monster, lacking moral agency, who really shouldn’t be held to human standards of good and evil. But you should still run anyway).

What I’m trying to say here is: sometimes it pays to do what others do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of not letting others define your life. I think Yelp is a dirty smudge on the hospitality industry, I think what you pay for at Carbone is less the food and more the fact that you’re at Carbone, and I think you’re insane if you’ve waited 1.5 hours in line to brunch at The Butcher’s Daughter because everyone else does. Having confidence in one’s own choices is a skill that, when mastered, leads to a more fulfilling life.

But sometimes, deferring your decision of where to eat to other people can lead to very good things.

(Photo from Le Garage’s website)

(Photo from Le Garage’s website)

Unnecessary disaster movie metaphors and preaching aside, in many cities you can place a safe bet by eating where the locals do, and straying away from the high-traffic, tourist-filled spots. In the case of Bushwick’s Le Garage, an unassuming French restaurant name-appropriately housed in a converted auto shop, this certainly rings true. These particular “locals“ are a little far away from their locale, however. Not so much the historical demographic of Bushwick, the neighborhood’s French ex-pats often congregate here, creating a watering hole for others missing the tastes and feelings of home. Much of the staff here also hold French roots, displaying all the same sensibilities as Parisian serveurs. They guide you through the specials while touching your shoulder, correctly recommending you order the saucisson sec (which you should definitely do), and float between tables, deftly placing ramekins of Béarnaise sauce between conversing diners somehow all without filling the stereotype of an archetypal, snappy French server.

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The gap between the typical French and American service experience is as wide as the Atlantic, though Le Garage has managed to bridge this divide, bringing warmth to the French dining experience, and a well-starched level of quality to the American in the same vein.

Le Garage defines themselves as “French with a twist,” with seasonal fair springing forth from locally sourced produce. Many of the dishes are derived from Catherine Allswang’s French recipes, who partnered with her daughter Rachel to open this bright and cheerful space. With its white brick walls, blonde wood detailing and punchy yellow color scheme, this old garage invokes a feeling of generational new beginnings. The old black-and-white photographs hung around the place showcase Catherine’s previous restaurants in Paris. You’ll find a selection of familiar French classics, as well as some nouveau takes here. The cocktail and wine list is simple, yet effectively modern, with cocktails featuring titles such as “Swipe Right” and “FOMO,”

Here’s are the few things I tried.

Starters

I spilled water form excitement, so what?

I spilled water form excitement, so what?

We ordered the saucisson sec, the smoked trout rillete, and duck fat potatoes with bearnaise. Gotta start light, you know?

The cured sec came dressed lightly in good olive oil, acting as individually wrapped, salty, peppery, packages.

The roe-topped trout spread perfectly on the accompanying croutons, imparting that unmistakable sea-meets-land smoked fish flavor. I wonder if the make the trout rillette themselves, salting the chopped fish heavily, cooking it slowly in fat, then cooling it with enough of the fat to form a spreadable paste, for the pleasure of diners. This diner, specifically, thanks them for all that work if so.

Risotto

I panic ordered the risotto. Not because I was freaking out. But because my roommate and sister had ordered what I had planned to, and, since apples don’t fall far from their respective trees, my parents picked my second choice. In no world did this offend me - I now had the opportunity to try everything.

The key word in “spring has sprung” is  sprung.

The key word in “spring has sprung” is sprung.

I’m also not a Risotto guy, but the strong spirit-of-Spring focus in Le Garage’s effort persuaded me otherwise. Mint, peak asparagus, and pine nuts lend a light hand to a typically heavy dish, and almost make you forget about the sheer amount of parmesan, butter, and white wine that were stirred in. The north Italian dish settled in nicely among other French mainstays.


Fish

Points for plating.

Points for plating.

Here’s all you need to have a great time - a perfect cut of fish, mandarin oranges, a simple salsa, a blackened bulb of fennel, all floating atop a citrusy white sauce. Pleasantly acidic, simple in execution (it’s surprising the depth of flavor you can achieve by simply charring fennel), and light enough to ensure ample space for dessert.

Chicken (For Two)

Parental self-assuredness.

Parental self-assuredness.

I’m perpetually jealous of my parents these days - since becoming empty nesters they’ve slowed their roll quite a bit and now make their way through life a bit more leisurely than before, taking time to breathe and exist quite comfortably as themselves. I’m also jealous of what they ordered. The chicken for two is slightly theatrical. After the order is fired in the back and the chicken gets some quality oven time, your waiter/waitress proudly out the whole chicken to show two lucky diners that they are indeed about to eat one whole chicken (split in half of course).

Braised collard greens, acting as a nest for a handful of roasted grapes, are dressed simply in the jus from the chicken. Pickled red onions and a charred lemon stand at attention, their brightness cutting through the rendered chicken fat like an alarm clock tearing through the last vestiges of a good dream (but in the best way).

Desserts

The sugar cubes at the bottom weren’t part of dessert, but I let one melt in my mouth anyway so they didn’t feel left out.

The sugar cubes at the bottom weren’t part of dessert, but I let one melt in my mouth anyway so they didn’t feel left out.

Since this particular occasion revolved around my sister’s birthday, we opted for dessert even though we knew better. Creme brûlée, pineapple, and chocolate cake.

Creme brûlée needs no explanation. Beautiful stained glass-level caramelization on this one, baby. Enough rich custard to make you question your every decision up until this moment.

Somehow, a simple rendition of dressed fruit knocked me on my ass. Chunks of pineapple, ginger syrup, lime juice and zest. Incredible. Can’t really go any deeper than that.

A deep, dark, hefty lil’ slice of chocolate cake gets a fat dollop of fat - creme fraiche helps cool things off a bit (since we were all sweating by this point) and alleviate some of the weight from the cake. The cake is velvety and chocolatey almost to a fault. The risotto I could handle, but this almost killed me.


Le Garage is akin to those neighborhood bistros in Paris. The ones where locals get to know the chef and waitstaff. That terrific feeling of having “your” spot to go, a place where you feel welcome and can trust you’ll always have a good meal. It’s a refreshing change of pace from other French bistros and cafes in the city, which sometimes heavy handedly force themselves to fit a cultural mold. It’s nice that I also, very conveniently, live right down the street. Someone come here for brunch with me. Seriously. The pineapple’s on me.

Follow Le Garage on Instagram or check out their site here.

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Read about another Brooklyn favorite of mine right here and check in here every so often for more of my takes.