As the summer air cools into fall and peach season passes into apple, there's no better place to observe the changing of the season's than in a backyard garden enjoying swell food. Chestnut, whose white French doors sit invitingly on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, is just the antidote for a meal whose inviting atmosphere is as addictive as you will find its food. Inside, exposed beams and wood planks are complimented by candlelight; outside, a merrily painted picket fence encloses tables illuminated by strung lantern lights.
On Tuesday and Wednesday nights,Chestnut offers a $25 prix fixe option which includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert, chosen from dozen or so appetizers and equal number of entrees that appear on the regular menu. Chef Daniel Eardley heads the kitchen, a sliver of the space diners pass through en route from inside to out. Eardley reigns as a seasoned farm hand, CIA graduate, and chef at the Napa Valley's Tra Vigne.
After being seated in the garden, gregarious waiters quickly filled water glasses, and set a tray of homemade sweet-and-sour pickles and bread on our table (focaccia and cranberry pecan), the pickles distinctly fresh with a hint of sweetness and the bread still yeasty from the oven. The wine list offers over a dozen varieties each of reds and whites--many hovering around the $30 range--as well as variations thereof, roses, and several varieties available at half-bottle quantities.
Among appetizers, a chilled watermelon gazpacho with calamari combined fruit and the sea , while the potato gnocchi were tossed with swollen fresh peas, a generous helping of garlic, and arrived hot, plump, and tender. Fried okra were set atop a cold salad of heirloom tomatoes and pancetta, textures melting and popping in our mouths.
Entrees pleased as well: a generous portion of hanger steak arrived oozing in a balsamic red wine marinade with a side of fingerling potatoes topped with a pungent valdeon cheese. A whole chicken breast still on the bone was tender inside with crisp skin outside, the only disappointment being the overcooked green beans, vegetable, and quinoa side that seemed to dissolve its ingredients of their original flavor.
Homemade mint chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and lemon verbena ice creams with shortbread cookies are the first of a roster of simple, but tasty dessert options. The lemon verbena was fresh and herbaceous, while the oatmeal raisin radiated with cinnamon and was studded with golden raisins. The cheesecake was lighter than most, the crust dense and sweet, and came with a side of sweet berries, accenting every third bite.
As much as we enjoyed the wine, the pickles, the fresh peas, and the ice cream, Chestnut's most endearing quality is likely the atmosphere. Any errs in food are easily overlooked by the low-hanging lantern lights and the $25 prix fixe option turns out to be a tremendous value, as most entrees alone ring in between $18-24. Pick a cool evening (Tuesday or Wednesday), grab your closest earth-loving friend, and head down to Smith Street. You won't be disappointed.
Chestnut is located at 271 Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. (718) 243 - 0049.