Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Delightful Return to iCi

Whenever I'm asked about my favorite places to eat in Brooklyn, I invariably gravitate towards a few restaurants. No. 7 almost always tops the list–I've never had a bad meal there, and the food is consistently, surprisingly good. Aqualis is another great choice, as are any of the brick oven Italian trio–Il Porto, Graziella's or Anima. Overlooking Stonehome would be a mistake, and I'd be remiss to omit Kif or Chez Oskar.

One restaurant I seem to never remember is iCi, even though I've been there a couple of times and even reviewed it earlier this year. My first visit was actually my second date with Olivia–also our first dinner together–so you think I'd never forget it, right? Well, since I'm not very bright, that's exactly what tends to happen. When I think about it, I'm pretty sure iCi is in the short list for my favorite restaurants. Not just Clinton Hill and Fort Greene restaurants, but favorite restaurants, period. It's always been that good, but for some reason I never remember to pass that along to the rest of the world. I think it's time I rectified that.

Olivia's parents were in town this weekend, and I was tasked with coming up with a restaurant suggestion for Saturday night. When choosing a restaurant, there are a whole host of things to consider:

What kind of food, and how good is it? I imagine that's at the top of most everyone's list. What's the point of going out to eat if you're going to be paying for awful food. Similarly, if you don't like sushi, you probably don't want to end up at a sushi place. Or maybe you do? Let's assume you don't.

How much does it cost? If you can afford Luger's or The River Cafe every time you want a bite to eat, more power to you, but most of us have to balance quality with affordability. At the same time, I'm not always interested in the cheapest option. A night out is a bit of a luxury, and it's fine to pay for a great experience.

iCi turned out to be a fantastic choice. Because I didn't want to break up the meal by insisting on taking pictures of everyone's food, I left my camera at home, so no pictures this time.

Since there were five of us, we ended up getting a variety of appetizers to start out along with a bottle of Les Baux de Provence. iCi's menu, like No. 7's is focused on a few, very well crafted dishes. You don't get a whole lot of choice, but nor are you ever very worried that you're not going to get something excellent. We started with a good variety of appetizers, though unfortunately we couldn't try everything.

With a couple of vegetarians in our midst, we sampled both the market salad and the vegetable terrine. I thought the latter was great, though Liv said she preferred the one at Chez Oskar. I think the argument has merit, and Chez Oskar certainly offered more goat cheese, but I've a certain ambivalence over which I'd pick. At the time, I thought iCi's was better, but now I'm not so sure. It's very good, no matter.

The special appetizer of the night was a mixed wild mushroom tart of some kind. Its mushroom-ness was overpowering, which I suppose makes sense for something tart-like that's filled with mushrooms. I happen to love mushrooms, so this was a good thing, but this isn't the kind of dish you should order if you're not wild about mushrooms.

I'm sorry.

One of the more interesting (and tasty) dishes was the ginger and carrot latkes with spiced apple chutney. Quite literally everything in that name is something I crave from time to time, so to combine them all into a neo-hippie Jewish pancake was enough to make me swoon. I was especially impressed with the apple chutney.

While the latkes were good, the sauteed quail with fig compote had cried out to me form the moment I spotted it on the menu, and it turned out to be my personal favorite starter. Eating a quail makes you feel like some bumbling giant performing surgery on a chicken, and it's delightful. While I favored the quail, that almost everyone at our table liked something else the most speaks highly of just how interesting and well-prepared each dish was.

Our entrees were again varied and wildly successful. I was in the mood for something substantial, and ended up with the braised mountain pork shank with squash gnocchi. The latter proved such a hit that we actually asked for a second side plate, but unfortunately the chef had only made enough to go with the pork entrees. The rest of our table was sad, but I remained happy, enjoying my gnocchi.

Liv had the braised duck special, which was spectacular. Even those at our table who are not normally fond of duck had to admit that this crisp, succulent version was amazing. If pressed, it would be hard to deny the duck being the star of the evening, but I was still partial to my spritely quail.

Thanks to the variety of orders, I also got to sample the eggplant and spicy peppers with smashed chic peas, the chicken breast with kohlrabi and wilted spinach, and the rib eye steak wtih white beans and blue cheese. each was a marvel of elegance, and I didn't hear one word of disapproval the entire evening.

While we weren't particularly hungry after such a meal, the dessert options proved to enticing to pass up. While the chocolate mousse with hazelnut was good, it honeslty couldn't hold a candle to the two others that we tried.

For many at the table, the plum tart tatin with vanilla ice cream stole the show, and it was easy to see why. A perfect tart crust with a spicy, powerful plum filling and the simple decadence of ice cream was really spectacular. So much so that few in our party would shut up about it.

For me, though, the real star was the pear tiramisu. Served in a ramekin, there's a wonderful variety of fruit and spice in eat bite. I don't even really like tiramisu most of the time, but this was really great and is the kind of dessert I'll probably just keep ordering every time I go.

iCi may not have come straight to mind whenever I thought of the best restaurants in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene before now, but I can't imagine I'll ever overlook it again. The atmosphere is great, the prices aren't bad, the wine list is very good, and the food is amazing. If you haven't been, go. That's about the best recommendation I can make.


246 Dekalb Ave

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