Four years ago, on the way to dinner at Dressler, we took a brief walk around South Williamsburg and suddenly found ourselves in no-man’s land. As I wrote at the time, “I’m not saying it is scary—only that it looks that way.”
The area still doesn’t look pretty, but with hipster bars and fancy salons dotting the landscape, it’s getting better all the time. In this formerly desolate area, chef Zak Pelaccio has installed the latest member of his fatty family, Fatty ’Cue. It’s the third member of the brood, after Fatty Crabs in the Meatpacking District and on the Upper West Side.
It wasn’t easy. Once announced for a Fall 2008 opening, Fatty ’Cue didn’t appear until March of this year. I don’t know the reasons, but getting the permits for a barbecue smoker is notoriously difficult, especially in an historic neighborhood full of buildings that pre-date modern construction codes.
The restaurant is a mash-up of the faux Malaysian cuisine offered at the other Fattys, and Texas barbecue supervised by former Hill Country pitmaster Robbie Richter. Sam Sifton, who awarded one star in the Times, wasn’t kidding when he said that, “No one else is cooking like this anywhere.”
The service and atmosphere very much resemble the other Fatty restaurants. Except for the barbecue smoker, so does the cuisine.
The menu is in two parts—snacks ($3–12) and specialties ($11–22)—but they all seem to be appetizers, more or less, delivered to the table as they’re ready, and designed for sharing. Most items are a mixture of proteins from the barbecue smoker and Asian-inflected condiments. For example: “Hand Pulled Lamb Shoulder, goat yogurt with Vietnamese mint, house pita.”
At plate-sharing places, it’s always difficult to gauge how much to order. I had two of the snacks and two of the specialities (again: these distinctions seem arbitrary), and it was a shade too much food for a solo diner. One fewer plate probably wouldn’t have been enough.
The server recommended a salad as a foil to the barbecue. Cucumbers ($6; above right) with smoked chili, brown rice vinegar, and toasted sesame seeds, fit the bill admirably, but they were nothing special on their own.
’Cue Coriander Bacon ($11; above left) is awkward to eat. You’re supposed to slather the steamed yellow curry custard on toast, then put the bacon on top of that. Perhaps you can guess from the photo that this didn’t quite work out. The bacon was just fine, but $11 is a lot to pay for five small pieces. An order of bacon at Peter Luger, down the street, is something like $2.95. You get more, and it is equally good.
Like the other Fatty restaurants, Fatty ’Cue serves dishes that obviously require a knife (in this case, for spreading the custard), but doesn’t supply one. I’m sure they have knives, but this isn’t exactly Le Bernardin, where you have but to flick an eyebrow, and a server appears instantly. So I used the fork as a spreader. When the server re-appeared to clear the plate, he picked up the fork and hesitated slightly before making the right decision to replace it.
Fazio Farm Red Curry Duck ($14; above left) was the dish of the evening, the best duck I have tasted this year—plump, tender, luscious, and yes, fatty. It came with a curry sauce on the side, but I quickly figured out that it was superfluous—as sauces invariably are with the best barbecue. In any case, those large pieces of duck didn’t readily fit in the dipping bowl.
Brandt Farm Beef Brisket ($18; above right) was the least successful dish, and like the others, ill-conceived. The meat lacked the deep marbling of the best brisket at Hill Country. There were a couple of moist pieces on top, but those below (not visible in the photo) were dry. You’re supposed to make sandwiches with the steamed buns, adding red onions and chili jam, but I ran out of buns before I ran out of brisket. Once again, a knife would have helped, as the remaining pieces of meat did not yield to a fork alone. Finally, I gave up.
There are some wonderful cocktails here, especially The ’Cue (Wrey & Nephew overproofed run, smoked pineapple, citrus, Tabasco, Pernod), featured in this week’s New York, and a bargain at $8. However, they were slow in coming. Every booze run to my table and others within earshot was prefaced with, “Sorry, but the bar is really backed up.”
Notwithstanding that, the servers and runners were helpful and knowledgeable about the food. Meal pacing is often a problem at small-plate restaurants, as indeed it was on our last visit to Fatty Crab. This time I lucked out, and everything came out (except the drinks) at exactly the pace I wanted. Based on other reviews I’ve seen, this will not happen to you, unless the stars are in alignment.
I wasn’t encouraged when I walked in at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening, to find a loud bar nearly at capacity. But the space is on three levels, and the higher you go, the more pleasant it gets. The hostess seated me a table on the quiet (relatively speaking) third level, which has only five tables. I suspect it gets much louder later on: they are open until 4:00 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.
While no dish at Fatty ’Cue is expensive on its own, the costs mount in a hurry. I paid almost $90, including tax and tip, for four small plates and three cocktails. That might be more than most people would want to pay in a casual restaurant that is not conveniently located, for food that is certainly interesting but is also uneven.
Fatty ’Cue (91 S. 6th St. between Berry St. & Bedford Ave., Williamsburg)