Thursday, October 16, 2008


Bussaco is the new incarnation at the old Black Pearl spot on Union Street in Park Slope. Scott Carney, the owner, has a fine pedigree having cut his teeth and made somewhat of a name for himself at Gotham B&G under the mighty Alfred Portale. Carney has employed an equally ambitious chef, Matthew Schaefer, also with an impressive background having spent time in the kitchen at both Aquavit and Le Bernadin. There's no doubt that these two gentlemen know how to run a restaurant and kitchen. Whether they can do it together in that spot remains to be seen.

An exemplary martini was made at the bar by a knowledgeable young chap, who explained the restaurant's water policy of double-charcoal filtering and carbonating tap water. Guests pay $4 for an unlimited quantity. It would be shame if more restaurants don't follow their example. Who on Earth wants to pay $9 for a nicely-shaped bottle of Norwegian glacial fjord juice when you can drink pure water for next to nothing?

The space is fairly large for Park Slope, and it does have a nice airy feel, but it suffers terribly from bad acoustics. There is literally nothing to absorb sound and conversations bounce around the walls freely. This would be no bad thing for a professional eavesdropper or spy, but on the night I went, there was a rather too happy bar crowd and I ground my teeth every time one young lady in that crowd let rip with her atrocious guffaw. I am sensitive to noise, I know. I suggest some nice Persian rugs from up the road to damp the noise a bit.

The menu is well thought out and leans heavily on what can be found at the Grand Army Greenmarket or from local producers. A crab chowder contained more than sufficient crab meat and smoky bacon adrift in a creamy shellfish broth mined with potato. A crisp roasted quail breast shared a large white plate with a circle of foie gras mousse and pickled peaches. The peaches won over the other flavours, I suspect because there was not enough foie in the mousse to counterpoint them and assert the quail but it was a well though out, cohesive dish. Scheafer's roast pork with crispy skin was slightly dry on presentation and continued to dry out while we ate. It took us a while to find the crispy skin, until we spotted a tiny blackened disc of a porky nature, which we assumed must be it. These tiny problems will iron themsleves out, for sure. My bass and Manila clams in lemon-herb broth was wonderful and the kind of thing you'd expect to get at Le Bernadin: Perfectly cooked fish, plump juicy shellfish and a broth contrasting and supporting both protein elements. The pastry chef, Deb Snyder from 50s eyesore Lever House doesn't let the side down, perfecting both an apple-caramel bread pudding (and I know my bread puddings) and a chocolate cake with toasted almond ice cream. Domestic and international both feature in an interesting and sensibly priced wine list.

Service was very efficient, and the waitstaff smiled a lot which is nice to see. They were a little over-attentive though, re-filling our water glasses after every couple of sips. My attempt to put the bottle on my side of the table next to the wall to prevent this was useless. They simply reached across us and our food to re-fill. I can fill my own glass, thank you. It was almost like they had nothing to do and felt they needed to look busy. I can understand that. For a restaurant with some buzz about it, the place had roughly 20 guests in a space for about 60.

And this is one of the reasons I fear for Bussaco. Despite the pedigree of both owner and chef, they have opened another 'New Brooklyn' restaurant in Park Slope, a neighbourhood with too many of this ilk already, and this amid the current financial turmoil. I do wish them the best of luck, and sincerely hope they make it, because I like the place.

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