On a fine recent spring evening, we were driven to roll the dice and walk the 15 minutes from our apartment to the Finch, a newish restaurant in Clinton Hill, by the simple fact of its having received a Michelin star, a rarity in this part of Brooklyn. According to firsthand info relayed to us at some gathering or other, it could be hard to get a table—especially, if like we were about to, you strolled in just after 8pm without a reservation. Our consolation, if the plan went belly up, would be the satisfaction of a pleasant walk. We were prepared.
We didn’t get a table, in the end, but we did snag two seats at the bar, where we immediately hatched a debate over whether this place seemed more like a Manhattan restaurant or a Brooklyn one, and over whether that distinction even existed anymore.
The Finch was opened at the end of 2014 by Gabe McMackin, formerly of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Roberta’s, and Gramercy Tavern. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a more perfect Brooklyn/Manhattan/farm-to-table culinary trifecta, and the result of its influence is evident here. The menu, comprised equally of “small” and “main” plates, barely stretches to a single page, yet deserves a careful perusal. Here was our first real sign that the food at the Finch would be at least as adventurous as any of those three landmark eateries where McMackin cut his teeth, sharpened his knives, whatever.
You’d certainly call these Manhattan prices, until you remembered that much of Brooklyn’s real estate today out-values Manhattan’s. We ordered some rosé, then two small dishes—baby red Russian kale with smoked ricotta, pistachios & balsamic ($16); roasted cauliflower & Romanesco with lemon & bottarga ($17)—and one main, a Swiss chard lasagna with parmesan pine nut & castelvetrano olive pesto ($26, and pictured at the top of this page). A mouthful in more ways than one, these dishes.
“Any food allergies or aversions?” The Fred Armison bartender asked us. I’m a vegetarian, I said, but added I felt confident we’d addressed that issue already with the contents of our order, and he agreed.
Behind us, two women in gold lame dresses ordered drinks and settled into a corner of the bar area. Had they recently been dismissed from an eccentric wedding party? Were they kicked out of that wedding party? At any rate, on this Wednesday night they had plenty of room in the open area behind the barstools to themselves. I wondered how deep the crowd here gets on weekend nights.
We picked up a strong vibe of running into someone we know at the Finch, perhaps because it’s buzzy, but not so buzzy that the crowd we know couldn’t be bothered with the trouble of getting in. We remained on guard, although ultimately it wasn’t us, but the two blonds seated next to us who would run into acquaintances.
“Ohmygod, it’s been so long,” one of them exclaimed as she hugged a man and woman who comprised a couple. The hugs were straight Brooklyn—air-kisses haven’t yet crossed the East River. As far as I know, the particular shades of blond on the two women come only at Manhattan prices—it’s as likely as not that they share a colorist with Ivanka.
“Are you guys living in the Hamptons full time?” the other one asked the couple. (Manhattan.)
The guy shook his head, sending his headful of unruly, curly blond hair rippling. “No, we’re…” and he pointed with his thumb to some apartment down the street. (Brooklyn.)
As for those three dishes we ordered, the chef himself presented our two small plates. I balked when I learned that in fact the “bottarga” of the cauliflower dish is made primarily of roe, and not the least bit vegetarian. I ate it anyway, because we are all part-hypocrite, and it was delicious. I didn’t get to tell McMackin, though, because he didn’t return to explain our main dish, and I still feel bad that not only did I wrinkle my nose at his work, but I didn’t even let him know why. (Neither Brooklyn nor Manhattan, but a holdover from my Midwest upbringing.) As I wrote this review, I Googled “roe” and learned that it is fish eggs, not fish, placing it back into the realm of vegetarian, and making me the only one who didn’t get anything right.
Once our plates were cleared, I settled in with what remained of my wine. Nearby, the hostess asked a server if a table up front had paid yet.
“No,” the server answered, “They’re still enjoying.”
That phrasing, I think, moves the needle a touch toward Manhattan for this new Brooklyn classic.
THE FINCH | 212 Greene Avenue | Clinton Hill, Brooklyn | 718.218.4444 | website
-Words and photos by Sarah Stodola