I tend to feel late to many New York restaurants, and Colonie is no exception. I’m “late” in the sense that it’s been on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights for a while now. Years ago I remember filling a rental car up with gas across the street once, watching as a scene from Gossip Girl was filmed. Yet it remains a new restaurant in my mind, and I’ve been in no rush. Given that the owners apparently couldn’t afford a “y” I felt secure in my aloofness.
Odd spelling aside, it was on my 28th birthday that we finally stopped in for a bite and a drink. Though we didn’t have reservations (and my cloying “but it’s my burfday” sad face didn’t work), we were able to sit at one of the high chairs overlooking the kitchen. These seemed like the best seats in the restaurant. What could possibly go wrong?
We began with a pair of crostini: clam and tomato for J and ricotta with honey and mint for moi. Both were good, and I appreciated the portion sizes for the prices; this is a piece of bread and some stuff on top, after all. The ricotta crostini was perhaps too heavy on the honey, though. It bordered on breakfast. Regardless, it seems silly to have a meal at Colonie and not order crostini.
Next came the rabbit and foie gras terrine with frisee and gelee, which I obviously hogged all to myself. The terrine’s flavor was great, but there was maybe too much of the sweet gelee. Something felt unbalanced. It’s not an exact science, but I find that if I have to use every morsel of toast when finishing off a terrine, it’s maybe not of the most successful variety. I acknowledge that though the consistently is visually irregular, as many terrines can be, I never once tasted a disconcertingly gritty or chewy bit. It’s smooth and flavorful — just not divine.
Following the terrine’s exit we were greeted by my hanger steak with fries, baby greens, and aioli dip as well as J’s scallops with spring peas, carrots, ginger and a cardamom sauce. J described his scallops as “good,” and I would second that the plating was very pretty. I don’t remember much about my tiny bite, but J’s clean plate is a testament to the dish’s success. My hanger steak was very juicy and full of flavor. Having probably ordered too much, we had trouble finishing the fries, but they were nonetheless also delicious.
Despite our rather lackluster drinks (a “Cool Hand Cuke” and a “Lima Llamado”), which were watery and mundane, we were all set to wrap up what had been both an enjoyable meal as well as a memorable endcap to my birthday…when we noticed something disturbing.
Since we were literally staring into the kitchen most of the meal, we had become accustomed to determining what dishes were being ordered the most, which chef had which role, and so on. Sure, the heat from the burners were a little hot, but we were warned about that. The chef closest to us — the one responsible for plating and saucing the components for all hot dishes — tasted apparently everything before it went out. He would grab a spoon from an unseen bowl in one corner of the kitchen, taste the dish, and then place the spoon back down. It’s the kind of thing you see on Top Chef that makes you question whether you know how to pour spaghetti sauce over pasta. “Should I be tasting this with a tiny spoon!?!” I had assumed he was taking a clean spoon and putting it into a communal dirty bowl each time. I assumed incorrectly.
While waiting for our bill we had additional time to scrutinize, and I realized that he was actually using the same spoon over and over and over again. For five minutes he didn’t even put the spoon down. He held it in one hand while working with the other, stirring one patron’s braised greens in one pan, tasting that, then stirring another parton’s lentils, tasting that, and so on. When I pointed it out to J he couldn’t look away. To say we were happy to already be finished with our own food would be an understatement. On the way home, as he thought about it more, J became more and more incensed. “Mmm, that saliva really gave my carrots a nice sweet finish,” he joked.
By the next day he was completely grossed out by the incident and suggested we do something about it, which ended up being the below email chain.
Though I agree the spoon was gross, does that sully my memory of the lovely food? Am I kidding myself into not acknowledging that this probably happens often? Does Colonie’s position as a high-end, local, modern restaurant absolve it of criticism I would regularly lay on a fast food establishment for the same issue?
What do y’all think?
Date: Jul 16, 2012 4:27 PM
I ate dinner at your restaurant last night. Everything tasted great. We sat on the stools looking at the kitchen. Towards the end of our meal we noticed that one of the chefs would taste-test sauces and then use that same spoon to stir other pans for other dishes. This happened multiple times after we started noticing and then began watching for it. I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this, but the more I thought about it the more I think it would seem to be a health hazard or at least unhygienic. I think there are ways to taste-test without using the same spoon.
Date: Jul 16, 2012 10:19 PM
Subject: RE: SpoonGate
Cc: other Colonie people, redacted
Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We do indeed have tasting spoons in all of our kitchens, and we endeavor to use them at all times. Unfortunately, from time to time, my oversight does not catch all the downfalls. I will review your email with my crew in detail at our nightly meeting this evening.
I’m very apologetic for this unsightly action during your dining experience with us. We hope that you are not dissuaded from dining with us again in the future. If it is any consolidation we are tasting all of the food in order to ensure that it comes to you as near perfect as we can make it. I would like invite you back in for a drink at our bar with our compliments at any time of your choosing. Please feel free to reach me via email or by my cell below.
Thanks again for bringing this to our attention. We hope to see you back at Colonie, or at Gran Electrica or Governor in DUMBO, sometime soon.
BRAD, executive chef
127 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11201
5 Front Street
Brooklyn, New York 11201