Bill Boggs Corner Table: The River Cafe, Brooklyn, NY
What becomes a legend most?
Simple answer: Remaining a legend. The River Cafe has maintained legendary status among food lovers of the world for forty years. The operation, which is the vision of its perfectionist owner, Michael "Buzzy" O'Keefe, has spawned the careers of culinary giants. Larry Forgione, Charlie Palmer, David Burke, Rick Moonen, and Rick Laakonen all have served as executive chefs in the gleaming, well organized kitchen. The current chef, Brad Steelman, has helmed the kitchen with remarkable consistency for seventeen years.
The restaurant, which is nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge, conveys the impression that it is somehow floating in the East River because it sits on an underwater pier. The mirrors and savvy table spacing ensure that virtually every seat affords stunning views of lower Manhattan, which glistens across the restless surface of the river. Off to the south, you can see the "Lady in the Harbor." The combination of the light, water, space, food, wine, and a well-dressed and happy clientele create a seeming cosmic force of positive energy in the place.
Many restaurants in such a glorious setting would not feel it necessary to strive for the culinary perfection that has earned The River Cafe a Michelin star. However, from the outset in 1977, Buzzy O' Keefe strove to create a menu that would draw not just New Yorkers, but people from around the world. He has achieved that goal admirably, because The River Cafe ranks among the top destination restaurants on the planet. It's a spectacular environment, friendly and welcoming, with sincere service that's formal but not fussy. Many of the employees have been working at The River Cafe for decades — the sign of a happy crew, and good leadership from management.
The pre-fixed menu is $130.00 and it features choices from thirteen appetizers, ten entrees, and an array of desserts. The menu is faithful to an American theme and Buzzy and his staff have proven themselves to be food world pioneers in sourcing the freshest ingredients.
A wide-sampling among the appetizers revealed gems like roasted rabbit that consisted of four outstanding components: an herb-wrapped rabbit loin, 21 layer rabbit bolognese, Brooklyn ricotta, and jus. The crab, which included a sautéed Maryland and Maine crab cake, uni vinaigrette, sliced avocado, herb salad, and basil aioli was a total winner, as was the wild shrimp composed of Pacific Blue shrimp, Alaskan King crabmeat, spring white asparagus, and citrus Maltaise sauce. The sweet, melt-in-your mouth handmade ricotta gnocchi was the best I can remember ever having.
Turning to the entrees, a classic is the duck breast (above), prepared with crispy lavender- and spice-crusted skin, tender braised red cabbage, and sweet potato spaetzle. The freshness of the ingredients is magnificent in the poached Nova Scotia lobster (below) with squid ink cavatelli pasta, lobster infused marinara, lobster claw, and spinach gratin. All entrees proved to be of the highest possible merit —the Branzino, the Organic Miller Family Farm Chicken, and the Niman Ranch 16-ounce strip steak, which is char-grilled, with bone marrow Duchess potato and red wine marmalade.
Simply put, it is hard to imagine having a finer culinary experience than this. A visit means you are in for a glorious meal in a one-of-a-kind setting.
I can recommend no restaurant more highly than The River Cafe. And for dessert, you have to splurge on a chocolate Brooklyn Bridge, or maybe the pistachio semifreddo, or maybe the blackberry-lime soufflé, or maybe the…ok, one of each, please.