Carroll Gardens is no stranger to neighborhood restaurants that attract citywide attention: There’s Frankies 457 and Ugly Baby, and until recently, it had Battersby and Dover. Now the chef at the latter two, Joe Ogrodnek, is putting his weight and local name recognition behind Bar Bête, a sleek French-ish bistro now open at 263 Smith St. at Degraw Street.
But Ogrodnek, who’s been cooking at Floret at Ace Hotel brand Sister City, is playing more of an operational role here. Instead, the man in charge of the food is partner Marc St. Jacques — a chef who’s fairly new to NYC but has had a seasoned, decades-long career across the country and in Canada, including at Michael Mina restaurants in Vegas and as executive chef at Toronto fine dining fixture Auberge du Pommier.
Bar Bête is the first solo restaurant for St. Jacques, who’s created a menu rooted in French Canadian cuisine but doesn’t stick to it. An acidic steak tartare comes with boquerones and a fried quail egg, while his take on pot-au-feu — a classic French beef stew that he grew up eating — uses dashi as the base and is finished with mirin for sweetness. There’s an ultra-rich omelette with peekytoe crab and seaweed butter, as well as a steamed bass with soft-cooked turnips, yuzu, and a dash of butter on top.
Other options could double as drinking snacks, like duck fat potatoes with garlic aioli or a swiss chard and fontina-stuffed chickpea crepe, which does a stand-out impression of a bar quesadilla.
Wine is a big part of the restaurant; sommelier Nick Ferrante used to work at the Breslin and wine destination Terroir and is seeking out “best practice” wines, some of which are natural and others that are not, St. Jacques says.
“You know the deal; most people’s food is crafted by longtime cooking,” he says. “There are all these little influences. You can’t really necessarily lock it into just one thing.”
St. Jacques showed up in New York to live with his partner and ended up working at the Ace Hotel, overseeing both the Breslin and John Dory Oyster Bar. A few months into his tenure, things blew up due to allegations of misconduct against restaurateur Ken Friedman; the chef had never intended to make the Ace job a longterm gig, and about a year into it, he made due on that promise and left.
In the process, though, he met many of the people who are now running Bar Bête. He became friends with Ogrodnek, who had been developing recipes at the Breslin while waiting for Sister City to finish construction. Studio & Projects and Love Is Enough — both of which have worked for Ace Atelier — also designed Bête, a 50-seat corner space with muted tones, banquettes, globular lights, and an open kitchen that resembles the center island of a country home.
And general manager Steven Kincade and sommelier Ferrante are also both former Breslin folks. The kitchen, too, is filled with Breslin alum.
Though the restaurant’s stacked with experience, St. Jacques and Ogrodnek teamed up because they both wanted to open a restaurant that’s casual and fun — a place “where you can go out and have good time and it’s fun and the music’s a little too loud,” says St. Jacques.
Both of them live in the neighborhood, and even when the restaurant’s closed, they hope that locals will feel free to pop in the back door to say hi to cooks prepping during the day.
“Marc and I both have a high-end background in food and cooking, really high end, tasting menu style places, very luxurious restaurants,” says Ogrodneck. “I think a lot of that now is going away. I don’t think it’s really coming back, at least for our generation. It’s more about an approachable experience than about being on stage and wowing people with the unexpected.”
Bar Bête is now open for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch will come later.