"There's a little bit of maple syrup everywhere," says Chef Aidan O'Neal, whose new restaurant Chez Ma Tante opened in the former Jimmy's space on Greenpoint's Calyer Street this week.
That a Vancouver native who spent five years in Montreal prior to moving to NYC would employ Canada's sweet liquid gold wherever possible is not surprising, but O'Neal's employing a nuanced, measured hand. He and chef de cuisine Jake Leiber—who met working at Cafe Altro Paradiso—lacquer salmon gravlax with gin and maple syrup while it's drying to build up its texture, combine it with chardonnay vinegar to finish a falafel dish, and there's a little bit of it on the rhubarb custard tart, too.
They're also mixing maple syrup with pureed prunes, anchovies, onion and Worcestershire sauce for their homemade ketchup, a concept they came up with to utilize onion scraps during the creation of other dishes. It's served with a wagyu short rib steak with salad and "chips," thick-cut wedge fries as a nod to England.
O'Neal says London's St. John restaurant, his favorite in the world, was a starting point while thinking about the restaurant's aesthetic, which features no art, whitewashed brick walls and "just tables chairs and that's it." "If you don't notice it, then [designer Patrick] did his job perfectly." St. John also serves always serves sorbet and Polish vodka, so it's on the menu here for that in addition to the neighborhood's community. "It's in Greenpoint, of course we're going to serve Polish vodka and sorbet."
There'll be some seasonal shifting in the menu, like different accoutrements with the falafel and the veal tongue—a highlight of a recent press preview, along with just about everything else—will be replaced by blood pudding. "The caesar will always be there and things like the gravlax and tartare will always be there because they're not seasonal, but I'd like the menu to be seasonal," O'Neal promises.
Another staple: the bread, a sourdough miche from Bien Cuit the kitchen dispatches with relish. "We just think bread's really comforting and it goes well with everything," O'Neal explains. "The three of us all love eating grilled bread. We pretty much just got the grill to grill bread."
92 Calyer Street, Greenpoint, 718-389-3606