April 2 was one of the first pleasant days New York saw this spring, and there were about 10 people queued up outside when we found the almost unmarked storefront on Smith Street in Cobble Hill. It was just shy of 6 p.m., just before Battersby opened for the night. Chefs and servers paced inside, preparing for another Saturday night. Battersby is the kind of place you walk into and wonder where the hidden doorway is to another, larger dining room. There is no hidden doorway. It is what it is: less than 20 seats in a sparse room. Exposed brick, exposed kitchen — and few barriers between front of house, back of house and patrons.
Even four of us — Mark's brother, Matt, and his wife, Jaime, Mark and me — in that tiny restaurant would have been a squeeze.
Clipboard in hand, the host led us past the rest of the tables, past the open kitchen, to what I assumed was a hallway leading to a cozy private space.
That cozy private space was, in fact, a dark, cramped breezeway, minus the breeze, between the kitchen and the back door, "private" only because we were wedged into a corner where no diners should have been seated.
I got over that roughly 43 seconds after our first wine, a rosé from Provence, and the first bites of food arrived.
We ordered the seven-course "surprise" tasting menu.
It began with two amuse-bouches. The first: a simple white porcelain cup filled with carrot juice tinged with lemongrass and a drizzle of oil for texture. The second: another perfect plate, artfully smeared with thick Greek yogurt and topped with a root-vegetable muesli — our first glimpse into the Battersby's constant interplay of at-odds flavors and textures.
Next, a freshly baked rosemary flatbread — almost too hot to cut — served with a jar of whipped ricotta and olive oil.
The kitchen was already frenetic with activity; every few minutes, the open range popped and sizzled with what we could only assume was the kale salad we'd all read so much about. I caught the chef's eye as he plated one; he waggled his eyebrow at me.
"Just wait," he grinned. "Patience, patience."
Finally, it was time for our first course: hamachi crudo with paper-thin radish and cucumber and a delicate yuzu vinaigrette. Jaime, who is due to have her first child in June, had a broccoli salad with microgreens and finely sifted grana padano draped over it.
We paired our first courses with a Kerner, a white wine from a German-speaking region in Italy. Dry, but with apricot, citrus and floral flavors: absolutely perfect with what we'd eaten so far.
Our second course was the famed crispy kale salad, with Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and roasted peanuts. The dark greens balanced beautifully with the peanut-spiked citrus dressing, which was so good that I picked up the bowl and slurped up the last of it.
The final savory courses…
Our next dish, casoncelli, was a loosely folded, handmade pasta filled with tender pork, topped with lemon, caper, feathery fresh dill, basil and breadcrumbs so crunchy they could have passed for Grape-Nuts. The balance of salty and sweet, mild and acidic, velvety and crunchy: perfection to the point of nearly unbearable.
Then, a spring-weight seafood stew of bay scallops, razor clams and mussels, nestled in a tomato broth, followed by a black angus corned-beef style short rib, blood red and heavily peppered, served with cabbage, apple, fingerling potato and sauerkraut-like cabbage.
Mark chose Volnay, a pinot noir from Burgundy, to pair with our heavier dishes. Alone, it tasted like a brick wall, almost too earthy for me, but with those final courses, the dark, overripe fruits emerged against the salt, pepper and savory.
We ended on a sweet note.
Our dessert wine tasted like spiced syrup, coating our mouths to meld with the flavor of buttery brown sugar Madeleines straight out of the oven, soft and pillowy and perfect.
Not surprisingly, our corner felt significantly snugger on the way out. Luckily, I all but floated up and over the table, past the other diners — who undoubtedly wondered where we'd been stashed for the past three hours — and out the door, into the cool night air.