Entries in Saul (3)


Review Recap: Saul

Record to date: 12–5

Yesterday, Pete Wells concluded his short tenure as interim critic with a two-star review of Saul. It was much overdue, as Saul was much changed since Eric Asimov’s $25 & Under review a decade ago:

Ten years is a respectable run for a New York restaurant. Most don’t make it that long, and many of those that do are slowly taking on water. A few may change course by bringing a new chef on board or, more and more frequently these days, trimming their sails and tacking toward cheaper, more casual shores.

Saul is a heartening exception. One of the first restaurants to bring a contemporary sensibility to Brooklyn when it appeared on Smith Street in 1999, it has neither faded, nor stood still, nor sought a personality transplant. Instead Saul Bolton, the chef and the owner with his wife, Lisa, has upgraded just about everything in their modest storefront. Saul is the same restaurant, but better.

Wells seems to approve of the restaurant’s Michelin star, an honor pooh-poohed on some food baords:

Like couples in a starter apartment, they dressed the place up as the money came in. The food is now served on white Bernardaud china and the wine is poured into Ravenscroft glasses. Such refinements gave Saul the feel of a destination. The first New York Michelin guide ratified this view when it gave Saul a star, a rating that was reaffirmed with the publication of the 2010 edition this week.

Mr. Bolton said in a telephone interview that the Michelin star lured visitors from around the country and beyond. But Saul is probably best understood as a neighborhood restaurant, although a very nice one.

Next week brings the first review from the new permanent critic, Sam Sifton. Unfinished business from the Bruni era, particularly Marea, will likely be high on his list, but a little bird told me that it won’t be his first review. Sifton was spotted at Daniel this week, but that was surely just expense-account padding, as the Times would not re-review it so soon after Frank Bruni re-affirmed its four-star status earlier this year.


Review Preview: Saul

Record to date: 11–5

Tomorrow, Pete Wells of the Times closes out his short career as restaurant critic with a trip out to Brooklyn to review Boerum Hill’s Michelin-starred darling, Saul.

Saul received a Michelin star in the inaugural 2006 New York City red guide, and it has one still. This frustrates foodies who suspect the tire man uses a gentler grading curve on the other side of the East River. We dined at Saul about four years ago and liked it better than we expected to, awarding 2½ stars out of four.

Saul has never had a full review in the New York Times. In 1999, Eric Asimov gave it a favorable write-up in $25 & Under. The restaurant has dialed up its prices since then, with entrées now $28–30, which would be the rough equivalent of $35 and up in Manhattan.

Wells has been stingy with the stars, giving out two goose-eggs and a singleton in three weeks. We think this review will be positive, in the first place because Wells is overdue to actually like something; and in the second place, because outer-borough restaurants seldom get bad reviews in the Times. The trifecta would surprise us, because it would open Wells to the same accusation leveled at Michelin—grading Brooklyn on a different curve. But we think Saul is easily good enough for the deuce.

We predict that Pete Wells will award two stars to Saul.


Saul, the Restaurant

Note: This is a review of Saul in its Boerum Hill location, which closed in July 2013. The restaurant is expected to re-open in the Brooklyn Museum in the fall. At the time I wrote this blog post, Saul had never had a full review in The New York Times. Pete Wells rectified that omission in 2009, awarding two stars.


The recent Michelin Guide for New York awarded the coveted stars to just thirty-nine restaurants, including just two outside of Manhattan: Peter Luger and Saul, both in Brooklyn.

I never would have tried Saul, but for its recently-acquired Michelin star. It is actually a very close trip from my apartment in lower Manhattan — two stops into Brooklyn on the A; change to the F across the platform, and then one stop to the corner of Bergen and Smith Streets. Saul is just a couple of steps down from the subway exit, in the Boerum Hill section.

The space is pleasant, but forgettable. The food is remarkable. You can see why the Michelin inspectors were impressed. We started with an amuse of hot curry soup. My companion and I both started with the smoky seafood chowder, which resembled a New England clam chowder, but with hefty chunks of smoked fish in the broth, and a helping of dainty micro-croutons served on the side. The soup was served in a slightly oval dish with its own ceramic cover, which the server removed tableside.

For the main course, my friend ordered the sliced ribeye, while I ordered an off-menu special called the Lamb Tasting. This consisted of lamb cooked four ways with a bed of mixed vegetables and spices. The two most memorable components of the dish were a lamb sausage and a shreded lamb confit inside a fluffy pastry.

For dessert, we both had the Baked Alaska, for which Michelin had printed the recipe in their guide. This was pleasant enough, although nowhere as memorable as what had gone before.

I don’t believe Saul carries a rating from the New York Times, but I have no hesitation in saying that the restaurant is serving three-star food — at least on the strength of this one visit. Dinner for two came to about $200 including tax and tip, which included a $45 bottle of wine.

Update: After I wrote this, Pascale Le Draoulec of The New York Daily News awarded Saul the identical rating that I did: 2½ stars.

Saul (140 Smith Street between Bergen & Dean Streets, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn)

Food: ***
Service: **
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **½