For April Bloomfield, the long dark night of pub grub may be over: Not that people didn’t enjoy her Italian-inflected bar food at the infamous Spotted Pig, or at her Brit-leaning gastropub, the Breslin Bar and Dining Room. But her cooking at the newly opened Sailor in Fort Greene in collaboration with Gabriel Stulman — serial restaurateur behind Joseph Leonard, Fairfax, and Jolene, among others — reminds me more of the first iteration of the John Dory. That restaurant opened in 2008 behind the Chelsea Market, and was described by Frank Bruni in the New York Times as a seafood house with the cholesterol count of a steakhouse: It closed the next year and moved to the Ace Hotel, downgraded to an oyster bar.
Located three blocks east of Fort Greene Park at 228 DeKalb Avenue, near Clermont Avenue, Sailor is more luxurious in its decor than Stulman’s West Village restaurants. A golden three-masted ship is etched on the front door, and the walls of the L-shaped dining room are hung with sailors, frigates, and bridges at twilight. From a corner at the rear, where a companion and I were seated for a first visit, the kitchen could be seen through a narrow door, and Bloomfield herself stood at the pass, carefully checking every dish as it set sail from the kitchen.
As with the John Dory, fish simply prepared is a preoccupation of the menu, which lists 21 dishes in five untitled categories: snacks, apps, mains, sides, and desserts. The mains are large with generous sides — and, as is rare these days, we saw several tables ordering only a main and forgoing the other courses.
One of the best dishes we tried was a steamed red snapper entree ($32). It turned out to be a skin-on filet, flaky and mildly tasting of vadouvan, the French answer to curry powder. Oyster and cremini mushrooms tumbled around it, and the snapper swam in great quantities of green olive oil.
That evening there was an unforgettable special of three fresh sardines coated with salsa verde and scattered with cubes of pickled kohlrabi — a novel presentation that made them tart and earthy. Less successful was Bloomfield’s reinterpretation of French brandade, normally an amalgam of salt cod and potatoes, but here rendered a thin puree with the consistency of tahini. I also detected some mild Austrian influences on the menu, not only in the presence of pickled vegetables but in a wonderful sweetbread appetizer ($18) doing a crunchy impersonation of a schnitzel in a modified lemony gribiche.
But perhaps the greatest influence is another restaurant: San Francisco’s revered Zuni Café. It dates to 1979, and one of the snacks at Sailor is named, “Zuni Café’s Anchovy with Celery and Parmesan” ($10). And that is just what it is — a small plate of four seemingly unrelated nibbles that make you happy just to look at them, the perfect thing to launch a glass of sparkling rose ($18), or one of the 17 other selections on the by-the-glass wine list — including a house white and house red at a benevolent $9.
In fact, one of the four entrees is a further homage to Zuni Cafe and its most renowned dish, a simple roast chicken for two. Bloomfield halves the chicken ($35), but it still shines in its red-accented baking dish glistening with herbed butter and sided with cheese-crusted potatoes. This is comfort food nirvana, and like the entrée at Zuni, abundant so that two could share it.
With so many rich foods in a variety of courses, desserts seem almost extraneous. At the foot of the menu, there were three listed: ginger cake, fig almond tart, and seasonal ice cream. We never found out what the ice cream was, because we went directly to the tart, which came with a dollop of creme fraiche. The filling consists of coarsely chopped nuts and fruit. My companion sat up when she tried it, and proclaimed the airy pie crust one of the best she’d ever had.
Bloomfield is at the top of her game at Sailor, incorporating aspects of her previous restaurants with complete self-assurance and even perfectionism. There is assuredly no hamburger here, or any steak either, and this accomplished menu only a few days after opening made me resolve to keep my spyglass trained on the restaurant’s future course.