Whenever I hear news about a new restaurant in Brooklyn that I’m hearing good buzz about, how likely I will visit it in the near future depends on how far the place is from where my wife Jun and I live in the Financial District. That means that, oftentimes, we have been able to make frequent trips to places in Clinton Hill, Boerum Hill and Dumbo, and to even as far as Bushwick or Park Slope. When it comes to the northern side of Brooklyn, Williamsburg is still manageable but it gets tricky when it comes to Greenpoint. Sure, if we have a plan before the meal in Williamsburg, the trip to Greenpoint becomes easier; if we are to visit a restaurant in the neighborhood just for the meal, however, I’ve often had to justify making a long trek (i.e. it has to be a brilliant restaurant, period). I’ve been hearing a lot of good words about Chez Ma Tante, but it was harder than I thought to actually make the visit happen. At long last, Jun and I had a fun art exhibition called Dream Machine in northern Williamsburg and it turned out the restaurant was an easy 10-minute walk from the exhibition so we finally were able to check it out.
It is hard to describe Chez Ma Tante in a few words. It has been linked to French-Canadian cuisine, but in looking at the menu the influence of the restaurant’s dishes doesn’t come out at you like a “A-ha” moment. What the restaurant most certainly is a neighborhood gem that is more likely to draw locals who live in Williamsburg than tourists who have been drawn to such popular places as Olmsted, Lilia or Peter Luger. Among the five dishes that Jun and I had sampled on our Sunday dinner, there was no bad dish, although seasoning in general was a little bit aggressive for our taste, such as the Caesar salad that was otherwise quite appealing in the crunchy texture of the fresh vegetables, or the steak tartare with celery and potato chips that offered pleasantly chewy bites. Pork shoulder that we ordered also was very capably cooked, but did the seasoning from the salsa verde and lentils have to be so overpowering?
I could tell that Jun was very regretful that the meat didn’t come out the way she had hoped in terms of flavor because she kept eating different pieces to see if there was any that was less overpowering with seasoning than the others. This is when the British-Indian dish of kedgeree came on a rescue in a rather unexpected manner. At first, this simple mix of curried rice, poached cod and celery salad looked rather pedestrian. However, the somewhat neutral flavor of the kedgeree more or less perfectly neutralized the strong flavor coming from the pork shoulder. Combine these two complementary dishes, and you have one heck of a meal. If you are serious about ordering the pork shoulder at Chez Ma Tante, trust me and order kedgeree as well; you won’t regret it. A slice of lemon tart marked a delightful end to our dinner; it was a little bit more citrusy than what Jun and I had experienced before, but I believe that was also due to the seasoning of the savory dishes that came before.
Getting a reservation at Chez Ma Tante wasn’t too difficult but the restaurant was nearly packed during our meal so I wouldn’t gamble on a last-minute reservation or a walk in. There is full bar with a concise selections of French-centric wines and cocktails inspired by Canadian traditions. The overall decor and ambiance makes the restaurant ideal for a casual meal that works for multiple occasions. Chez Ma Tante isn’t perfect, but if you live nearby Williamsburg or Greenpoint or happen to be in the neighborhood, it is worth checking out for thoughtful dishes that are not boring. I’ve also heard a lot of great things about the restaurant for its brunch menus (particularly its pancake that has quickly become a must-eat classic in NYC), and will certainly come back one day for brunch (but before ordering, check with the kitchen to see if they can go easy on salt).
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 7.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 90 Calyer Street, Brooklyn, NY 11222
Telephone: (718) 389-3606