Dine-In Brooklyn was winding down, it was rainy, dark, and becoming late. Where to eat? Several unsuccessful attempts to score a last-minute reservation ultimately led to an enthusiastic availability at Chez Oskar in Fort Greene. I'd passed the French-style bistro on several occasions but never paid it much heed. But what the heck? The situation was becoming desperate enough to warrant a $23 gamble.
Chez Oskar is a lively place that seems quite at home in this diverse neighborhood. It could best be described as a bistro à la Brooklyn—casual, funky, and comfortable. The service is friendly and the food is good, but I'd restrain any praise beyond that.
I seldom surrender to cravings involving cholesterol-laden foods, but the Country Pâté sounded the most promising among the five starters on the restaurant-week menu. Though the presentation was attractive, the taste failed to live up to the promise. Bland and uninspired, this dish made me rue my dietary transgression. It's a pity that the comparably priced escargots or the slightly more expensive salmon-and-tuna tartare were not offered. Perhaps they would have made a better first impression.
The five main course offerings—comprising fish, chicken, lamb, beef, and mushroom risotto—were ostensibly well-chosen, appealing to a broad array of tastes. Owing to the weather, I ordered the Lamb Shank to help defend against the chill that awaited me outside. The meat, tender enough to fall off the bone, was served with fingerling potatoes, artichokes, sautéed endives, and pomegranate sauce. The resulting concoction tasted much like a lamb stew. While not bad, it was unremarkable and rather ordinary. Statistically speaking, it seemed fitting that, among les plats of my two Comestaccomplices, mine ranked squarely in the middle.
As at Pó Brooklyn, the fowl was a better choice here. The Free Range Chicken with pancetta-potato gratin, caramelized onions, fava beans, and red wine sauce was rather tasty, albeit unexceptional. Instead of educing flavor from the chicken, however, the sauce's role was reduced to that of an inoffensive, unassuming accompaniment to the bird. It was a pleasant dish that would have benefited from a more aggressive sauce. Perhaps I was foolishly expecting something a bit more akin to a coq au vin.
The Lemon-and-Garlic Crusted Codfish was the weakest of the main courses I sampled. Served with poached leeks, potato crisp, and whole grain mustard vinaigrette, this offering could be aptly described as an insipid piece of fish with a few embellishments. Unfortunately, its plate mates were too bland to rescue the foundering cod.
Desserts were commensurate with the courses that preceded them—lots of promise unfulfilled. I'm not sure why I had high hopes for the Sweet Apple Crêpes. They certainly looked good. The dry, flavorless pancakes with caramelized apples left me as cold as the accompanying cinnamon ice cream, however. Although the Warm Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream was slightly better, it failed to catapult my taste buds into cacao ether. None of us was tempted by the Mango Crème Caramel.
Unfortunately, none of our dishes seemed to cross the threshold that separates the extraordinary from the ordinary. Most of the flavors failed to soar and some never even managed to take flight. Nevertheless, Chez Oskar's following has continued to keep it afloat since 1998. In terms of the $23 gamble, we probably broke even. This is a good neighborhood bistro, but scarcely worth a trip on the G train.
211 Dekalb Avenue (NE corner Adelphi St), Fort Greene, Brooklyn
By train: G to Clinton-Washington Avs (exit at Clinton Av)
By bus: B38, B69