Before I delve into the tasty details of two fine dishes at Bar Blondeau in Williamsburg — a smoky tuna confit ($15) and a plate of saffron rice ($21) — let me tell you about the time I visited one of the venue’s predecessors in the same space. Years ago, I ascended to the Wythe Hotel’s sixth floor and ended up in a room packed with chic weekend revelers. It didn’t feel like a proper place for a relaxing bite or a drink, which is fair enough since that isn’t what folks go to rooftop bars for. A minute or two later, I was riding that elevator right back to ground level.
Hotel rooftop bars — or quite frankly, most bars more than a few stories up — are not typically celebrated for their culinary chops. They more frequently attract a clientele with other ideas in mind, like unwinding with a $17 gin and tonic while snacking on warm olives or house hummus — all while taking in a sweeping view of the surrounding area.
The Bar Blondeau crew, accordingly, is very happy to charge $17 for cocktails to fashionable patrons who, I’ll be honest, seem reasonably blasé about the panoramic Manhattan skyline right in front of them. The principals are also, however, happy to serve very good and somewhat edgy food. Chefs Jake Leiber and Aidan O’Neal — the same ones behind the French-y Le Crocodile downstairs and Chez Ma Tante in Greenpoint — actually manage to serve the style of creative, Euro-leaning, small-plates cooking one might hope to find at an acclaimed neo-bistrot or cave à vins in Paris.
Of course, this is a rooftop bar, so one might not always encounter crowds who are there to try cod tempura with yuzu mayo. If that sounds like a brashly presumptive statement allow me to specify: I was the only person actually eating at a very full bar on a recent Friday. Also, I spent the first half of my meal listening to a biotech guy educate me on his (highly questionable) views regarding mask wearing and booster shots; he also sought my counsel on whether to buy a second home on the East End of Long Island and move his family from Williamsburg to Greenpoint. I told him to go for it.
Good news: Any client-based buffoonery seems to fade into the background when the kitchen starts sending out its studied creations. For the tuna, Lieber tells me he seasons the fish bellies in bay leaf and salt before dousing them in toasted cumin, oregano, and pimenton. He then gives the tuna a nice slow poach in olive oil and lets it take a proper overnight nap in the liquid as it cools. The end product smells like dried chorizo and squishes with the silkiness of chicken liver. And in case that’s too soft for you, the chefs toss in a few hazelnuts on top for aromatic crunch.
I paired the tuna with a smart riff on a classic Dark & Stormy that involved building a mix of Japanese whiskey, ginger, soda, lemon oil, tea, and tiki bitters in an iced highball. The booze and carbonic acid helped slice through the oils of the tuna. I sucked down that $17 potion very quickly.
For something with an even more assertive texture, consider the saffron rice with morcilla. The chefs cook their bomba rice with sofrito, dry it out, then fry it on the plancha to create the uniform socarrat-style crust one might encounter in good paella. Cooks then toss in a sturdy dose of blood sausage — laced with pig’s head terrine and lard. The result is effectively a Spanish-leaning take on fried rice, a wondrous union of pork and grains. Each bite exudes an almost medicinal punch of saffron, a serious wallop of crunch, and the warming cinnamon overtones of the sausage. A fried egg goes on top for good measure. I paired it with an ice cold gin martini to stand up against the offal and to help my brain forget about the biotech bro.
This was, in short, the type of meal one would expect to encounter at a Brooklyn wine bar where the menu was written on a chalkboard, rather than at a high profile hotel rooftop, but here we are. You can probably guess what I’m about to say: I’m calling Bar Blondeau’s tuna confit and blood sausage with saffron rice a BUY. They are both entirely more affordable than a second home out East.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).