“Sauvage” doesn’t seem like the right name for the little café-looking restaurant and bar opened in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood last year by the team behind another small Brooklyn establishment, the New Orleans-flavored Maison Premiere. The word means “wild” in French, of course, but Sauvage, with its bentwood café chairs, opulent leather booths, handsome tile floors, and flickering table candles, seems eminently civilized. It’s a warm room, the kind that feels full and lively even when half the tables are empty — the kind that feels right the moment you walk in the door.
There’s not much wild about the menu, either — at least not in the sense of foraged food or game meats. Eight or 10 of the numerous appetizers are centered on vegetables, but I’m pretty sure they’re all farmed. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, especially when the choices include caramelized sunchokes tossed with ‘nduja and mint or multicolored carrots, also caramelized, on a bed of sesame Cloumage, a creamy fresh cheese. Other vegetable choices include acorn squash with sunflower seeds and buckwheat honey and Brussels sprouts with walnut gremolata and whole-grain mustard. There are also, among other things, several kinds of oysters daily, a couple of salads, and some little cylinders of squid stuffed with (you knew this had to be on the menu somewhere) kale, with some cubes of fingerling potato on the side. I get the sense of the dish, but frankly would have been happier if the squid had been stuffed with, say, ground pork (and if the potatoes had been a little crisper).
A generously sized boneless slab of heritage pork loin draped in black pepper pan sauce was pretty near perfect, full of flavor, tender, and nicely paired with small pieces of persimmon and celery root. Smoked corn tagliatelle with salt cod and caviar was delicious, full of sea flavors but also somehow earthy (though the pasta was troppo al dente).
The chef here is Damon Wise, former corporate executive chef for Tom Colicchio’s corporate operation and opening chef at Andrew Carmellini’s Lafayette, who then left New York to work on the Scarecrow & Co. projects in Charleston, South Carolina. He returned north in December and took over at both Sauvage and Maison Premiere from opening chef Lisa Giffen. He clearly has the chops, and I’d say probably just needs to focus his menu a little more — and monitor some cooking times more closely.
As is de rigueur these days, Sauvage has a serious cocktail program, with both innovative (but not outré) house concoctions and reworked classics. I do prefer my Negronis made with Campari — Contratto Bitter is subbed here — but Sauvage’s version, premade and chilled to syrupy richness, wasn’t bad at all. And I couldn’t fault the margarita, made with El Luchador tequila, Royal Combier (high-tone triple sec), and fresh lime juice.
The wine list is great fun: some top-notch grower Champagnes, some rarely seen Savoyard whites, nine unusual rosés, a good representation of dandy Chinons from Olga Raffault and Bernard Baudry, and a fair number of reds from southern and southwestern France, among many other things. I would add only that at a restaurant where the most expensive main dish is $27, there ought to be more wines under $50 or $60.
The soundtrack is fun, too — extremely varied, never intrusive but never bland, and sometimes downright surprising. One does not often have the chance to hear Van Dyke Parks singing “Jack Palance” while digging into a first-rate pork chop.