My parents were visiting last weekend, and in true Lassie style, much of that time was spent eating. Our meals included visits to Mile End and Zabb Elee, near-perfect bagels from Park Slope’s Bagel Hole, Blue Smoke fried chicken and ribs at the Jazz Standard, lunch at the Upper East Side’s Paola’s with other Oregon relatives who happened to be visiting and a homemade feast with Daddy Salmon’s relatives out in Long Island. On Sunday, we drove with Second Breakfast, Okonomiyaki and my cousins Rice Ball and Leftover Girl to Doylesville, Pennsylvania where we toured the unbelievably ornate Fonthill Castle and then walked along the path that runs between the Delaware river and a former shipping canal. The drive home took longer than we had hoped, so we all decided to go out for dinner. Rice Ball, who is nine, had school the next day. Luckily, there is a restaurant right next door to his house in Williamsburg: an Uruguayan spot called Tabaré.
The restaurant is a cozy little space, dimly lit, with windows looking out to the street and a small patio out back. A table for eight was easily arranged after 8 pm on a Sunday night, something that might not be possible at some of the happening places on Bedford Street. (Hipsters, science has revealed, don’t need sleep. Or is it just that they don’t have jobs?) I’ve tried Argentinian food, Brazilian food, Peruvian food and Colombian food, but I can’t say I had ever knowingly tasted Uruguayan food before visiting TabarÃ©. A quick glance at the menu revealed that the country’s cuisine is heavily influenced by those of its European settlers from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. Empanadas graced the menu, alongside lasagna (spelled “lasaña,” the Spanish way) and fish cooked “en papillote” (or “pescado en papel”). We started by ordering beer and wine, a necessity after enduring the sluggish tunnel traffic back to the city. Trying to be as authentic as possible, Mango Mama ordered the Uruguayan Pilsen, while I went slightly further afield and ordered the Argentinian Quilmes. It seems the Argentinians best their Uruguayan neighbors at beer as well as wine; the Quilmes had more flavor and depth than the Pilsen.
We started with an order of delicious Provençal-style mussels, cooked in a buttery broth of garlic, shallots and white wine. This came with a buttered slice of grilled baguette and could have made a lovely meal by itself. In fact, Okonomiyaki had ordered another bowl of mussels for her main course. Dining with EB himself, we could not, of course, pass up the opportunity to order empanadas. These come in three flavors, and one order includes two. I selected caramelized onions, gruyere and fontina and Spanish tuna and black olives. These were both tasty, although I preferred the tuna. They came with two dipping sauces: one a chili-spiked oil and the other a slightly spicy blend of parsley, cilantro, garlic and oil olive, similar to the Yemeni condiment skhug. Then came the main courses. Okonomiyaki got her mussels, and Leftover Girl got the fish (which that evening was pollock) cooked in parchment paper. The fish was tender and flaky beneath a crisp shell of herbed grated potato. It came with a simple, but exquisite, salad of multi-colored cherry tomatoes.
Almost everyone else got the dish that is clearly the restaurant’s speciality: the chivito completo. This is a traditional Uruguayan sandwich, made with filet mignon, bacon, mozzarella, onions, green olives, lettuce, tomato and a fried egg. (Rice Ball ordered his with nothing but steak.) Served on a burger bun with a side of crispy fries and house-made mayonnaise, this sandwich was a heavenly blend of salt, fat and protein and would no doubt prove deadly if eaten with any kind of regularity. I ate some of other peoples’ sandwiches, but in an effort to try more menu items, I had opted for the potato gnocchi of the day. These were rich with a pleasant chewiness, but they came with a heavy, creamy, tomato-based sauce that was infused with so much sage that the herbal flavor became a little off-putting. The sauce, otherwise well made, was also too weighty for its already opulent base. This is not to say I didn’t finish my meal, but I felt uncomfortably full after doing so and had a soapy sage taste lingering on my palatte.
We were all pretty full, and Rice Ball had to go home for bed, but our server brought over some flan, courtesy of the restaurant. She had seen me taking pictures of my food, and Leftover Girl had accidentally mentioned something about my blog, so I was initially concerned that this gift was a way of guaranteeing a better review. But our server assured us that the gift was planned all along and Okonomiyaki said she had gotten a free dessert almost every time she had eaten there. Besides, the Mango Lassie’s good opinion cannot be bought! I have to admit, though, that flan, creamy and perfectly caramelized, was pretty darn good.
221 S. 1st St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211