It’s apparently been too long since a middle-aged Manhattanite went on safari in Brooklyn, so none other than Vogue has gone and published “A Distant Shore,” in which Jeffrey Steingarten “table-hops around New York’s most talked-about borough.” Oh, boy.
If the name Steingarten sounds familiar it’s not because you’re thinking of Soundgarden — it’s because a few years ago, Vogue’s restaurant critic touched off a small shitstorm among foodie types when he told Grub Street about the “dangers of Brooklyn boosterism,” recalling the time his Brooklyn-proud assistant brought him a croissant from some bakery she liked over there and he found it “only acceptable” compared to the great croissanteries of Manhattan (you know, like, Au Bon Pain).
To be fair, Steingarten also praised Roberta’s back then, and he does so again in the glossy pages of Vogue (you’ll need the Vogue app to read it online) – though not before comparing the restaurant’s décor to, um, a place where 80,000+ people were killed by an atom bomb. Roberta’s, he says, is “not easy to find, situated as it is in Brooklyn, which a real estate agent might refer to as a disfavored neighborhood. On my first visit, I walked past it two or three times. I’m not saying that the restaurant’s façade was designed to resemble the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, where bombed-out buildings have been left as a modern ruin, a grizzly antiwar reminder, a memento mori, but Roberta’s owners have done little to prettify the exterior of the old gray auto-repair garage that underlies it all.”
Still, the place is worth the “long, bumpy trip from Manhattan,” the “perilous voyage beyond Manhattan,” and even “the costly, time-consuming, often nauseating taxi ride to Brooklyn and back, or the even longer subway ride that often dumped us eight dark and unfamiliar blocks from supper” – as Steingarten at various points describes the traumatic experience of leaving The Island.
Even if Steingarten is extremely effusive in his praise of Roberta’s, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, Pok Pok Ny, Battersby, and Williamsburg’s own Gwynnett St. (the food is “original, unusual, sort of modernist, generally well executed, and mostly delicious”) he manages to get a few good jabs in there.
First off, he says Brighton Beach and Sunset Park are the “two most interesting neighborhoods” in the borough (take that, gentrified Brooklyn!) and describes the ingredients at Blanca (the tasting-menu offspring of Roberta’s) as “mostly locally chosen – about one-third from the adjoining roof garden – and responsibly chosen. (I promise not to use the words curated or sourced, both of which I first learned in Brooklyn.)”
We’d be curious to hear which Brooklyn restaurant taught him the word “sourced.”
And of course, no act of condescension toward BK would be complete without a rundown of the defining characteristics of “the hipster” – in this case “a narrow-brimmed fedora, white earbuds, and skinny jeans (an offensive requirement that has barred me from the way of the hipster).” (See also: “slackers” and “productive nerds.”)
In any case, give Steingarten – whose New York Diet made him persona non grata among many Brooklyn dwellers – credit for at least acknowledging that Brooklynites “no longer need to stand at the water’s edge, gazing longingly at the bright lights of Manhattan, salivating,” and also for asking the self-deprecating question: “as more Manhattanites like me begin taxiing there for dinner, how truly hip can it possibly remain?”
Lucky for those who can just roll out of bed and walk to Roberta’s, Vogue readers probably won’t be among those taxiing, given the magazine’s description of the long, bumpy, perilous, costly, time-consuming, often nauseating voyage required.