A few years ago, a good French bistro like Pomme de Terre would have seemed unthinkable in this part of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. It still appears somewhat improbable today. For instance, the nearby Newkirk Avenue BMT station has no fewer than two transit cops present at any given time. And while undergoing its transformation from seedy grocery to upscale eatery, this space suffered numerous acts of vandalism. Despite the annoying setbacks, owners Gary Jonas and Allison McDowell (founders of The Farm on Adderley nearby), and Jim Mamary (one of the founders of Patois) persevered and, on 31 March 2008, began serving, in their words, "well-loved food." Since then, I'd always wanted to give this little bistro a try. The recent Dine-In Brooklyn week afforded me a fine opportunity.
Dining weeks allow restaurants to showcase certain dishes at a reduced price. Many restaurateurs use such occasions to put their best food forward. Unfortunately, that was not the case at Pomme de Terre. Their Dine-In Brooklyn menu seemed to target regular customers at the expense of newcomers. Instead of featuring signature dishes, they offered items not found on their regular menu. Perhaps with good reason. After all, this little restaurant appears to have established a constant clientèle. Nevertheless, I'd have preferred something a bit more representative—such as Steak Frites au Poivre—of their typical fare.
Although the bread is ordinaire, Pomme de Terre adds some nice French touches such as homemade butter to accompany it. My meal began with a garlic soup containing a poached egg and topped with a croûton. Perhaps I'm a bit too fond of garlic, but it seemed there just wasn't enough of it in the broth. While this starter was a tasty and pleasant departure from the ordinary, its lack of ail intensity did not yield a favorable comparison with garlic-based concoctions I've enjoyed in Europe.
For the main course, chef David Pitula offered two choices: Warm Country Pâté and Chicken Paillard. I opted for the latter, which was served in a goat cheese-basil vinaigrette, topped with grilled eggplant and squash, and accompanied by Yukon-Rosemary potatoes. It was good, possibly even very good. The overly acidic vinaigrette created a slight detraction, but was ameliorated somewhat by the sweetness of the grilled vegetables. Overall, the flavors melded well.
Had the cellar been commensurate with the wine list, I'd have found it quite acceptable. I've come to expect a bistro's carte des vins to comprise few, but well-chosen—possibly esoteric—wines. Unfortunately, it took four tries to find a wine that was actually in stock. I finally settled on a glass of Vin de Savoie "Abymes," whose $9 price would have bought a bottle at a retail shop.
The dining room's décor is consistent with that of bistros one might find in Manhattan. To wit, it has a sort of French feel. Nevertheless, a Gallic bistro experience should transcend French-accented fare and décor. Alas, the service was decidedly un-French. My waiter made no efforts toward any sort of authentic pronunciation whatsoever. (My request for a glass of "van de sahvwah" was met with a "vin da Savoy." Oh well.) While competent and not unfriendly by any means, the glib service was not all that ingratiating. Perhaps I simply expect too much.
For dessert, I chose the Lemongrass Panna Cotta with mixed fruit. While the tropical infusion provided a tangy twist, the consistency of the panna cotta lacked the buoyancy I've come to expect. Again, at a purportedly French bistro, I'd have preferred the Gallic version of burnt cream: crème brûlée.
Whatever its minor shortcomings, Pomme de Terre is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that has been bereft of superior dining spots far too long.
Pomme de Terre
1301 Newkirk Avenue (NE corner Argyle Rd), Ditmas Park, Booklyn
By train: B,Q to Newkirk Avenue
By bus: B8, B68