As I have been carrying on my resolutions for 2019 to revisit restaurants I had previously been to and select places that I would like to go to more regularly with my wife Jun, one of the restaurants that has been on my radar for second look was Olmsted, one of the best newcomers that opened in 2016. When Jun and I, back then not married together yet, we had a lot of things to like about the thoughtful culinary philosophy of the kitchen emphasizing the freshness of ingredients and finding ways to present small dish-centric plates at affordable prices to become a truly neighborhood destination every New Yorker would love to go every once in a while (see my review in 2016 here https://kenscale.com/2016/11/18/olmsted/). Olmsted was almost universally praised when it opened, but as I have witnessed with other restaurants that made a splash in the beginning only to fade after several months, I wasn’t sure what our second visit would look like. On a recent Sunday, after stopping by Brooklyn Museum nearby the restaurant to watch the ongoing Frida Kahlo exhibition, Jun and I went to the restaurant for an early dinner, and it was clear that Olmsted is still going very strong.
Just like our first visit, the menu at Olmsted consists almost entirely of small plates ideal for sharing and no single dish costing more than $24. This time, Jun and I made it a point to order dishes we hadn’t tried previously, and had a lot to like about our choices, starting with the dip inspired by lobster thermidor that was a perfect snack to kick off the meal. I guess there was a mix-up with our sourdough and honey butter bread order as it took us nearly 20 minutes to get it; perhaps our server felt bad about it and wanted to express apology with a free plate of the now iconic carrot crepe with little neck clams and sunflower underneath that was one of our favorite dishes from the first visit. It was as beautifully plated as I had remembered, and was still an outstanding dish showing the remarkable ingenuity of the kitchen to marry garden and sea. One of my favorite dishes of the night was mushroom spätzle following the Russian tradition of stroganoff style dishes. It was earthy and delightfully creamy without overpowering my palate. If this were to be my lunch every day, I would be very delighted.
The kitchen at Olmsted draws inspirations from outside the U.S. often to great effect, like the lamb chakna (a type of spicy stew from India) with red lentil naan and pear chutney on the side. You don’t feel the same fiery intensity of Indian cuisine, but the way Olmsted reimagined the dish to fit its culinary philosophy was quite memorable. For larger dishes, we both enjoyed grilled scallops with winter slaw, spicy peanut and XO sauce for its playful take on Chinese flavor. The only dish that was off from our dinner was the duck, which really comes in two formats (duck breast and dark meat accompanied by watercress salad). While the duck breast’s texture wasn’t too bad, we wished it didn’t have the sweet sauce underneath that surprisingly overpowered the meat, and the watercress salad was simply too aggressive in flavor to give us any chance to savor the dark meat. Still, we both agreed that Olmsted is a very good restaurant while enjoying another iconic dish from the restaurant, the frozen yogurt with lavender honey (if we had more room for dessert, we probably would’ve tried the s’mores again at the garden but we were beyond stuffed by the time we were ready for dessert).
Getting a reservation at Olmsted is still very difficult although if you plan ahead and don’t mind early dinner seating, you should be OK. The dining space was full of diners and there were still guests waiting for their turn at the garden, showing the enduring popularity of Olmsted in the Brooklyn neighborhood. There is full bar as always with inventive cocktail menus inspired by various elements of the garden. New York City now has plenty of restaurants that claim to be farm-to-table in concept, but it’s hard to top Olmsted with its own garden and the consistency of the kitchen’s execution using the best ingredients available. Because of the letdown from the duck, I will hold off giving the KenScale All-Star to Olmsted for now but will certainly visit the restaurant again in the near future to give it another shot.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 9.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 659 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238
Telephone: (718) 552-2610