It only took one try to get a recent Friday night reservation at Neeloo. That relative rarity—a new restaurant, with abundant early media attention, where you can still get in, is befitting a topline family-run business, even one where the patriarch’s résumé includes Per Se.
Like most other dining rooms in New York City, Neeloo’s is considerably more casual than that august institution. Its cooly-quaint, brick-lined space seats 70 in a stretch back to the intimate patio, where there’s room for 24 more. It’s warm and cozy, but decently spacious, with a long bar running along its right side. Exposed lightbulbs hark back to the Edison variety that saturated the borough enough years ago that their glow now feels nostalgic, rather than clichéd.
The dinner menu is described in press materials as new-American-meets-Mediterranean with influences from the South of France. The cocktail list isn’t quite so broadly precise; an incongruous lineup of five, led by what they call the luxure martini, made with a sugary mix of vodka, clove, maraschino, Giffard framboise, lime and pineapple, and ending with the curiously character-free, save its viscosity, La Passeggiata, likened to a white Negroni. The bar’s classic Manhattans and martinis are, fortunately, much better (all $16+).
To start, Neeloo’s hearth-broiled Wellfleet oysters ($19/6) are wonderful. The Cape Cod bivalves are cloaked in warm Camembert. The earthy melted cheese is the item’s most pronounced flavor, but it still manages to mingle marvelously with the shellfish without totally obscuring the briny interior. The pommes dauphine app ($10) is also pleasant, its ping pong ball-sized potato spheres appropriately crisp in the outside, and soft inside, served with a bright, thin romesco, and purported horseradish hiding in there somewhere.
That Neeloo’s $39 steak is among the more affordable of its peers is a disquieting quirk of our dining zeitgeist. That it is the most expensive dish on the menu is perspective rattling. And that its nice slices of American Wagyu sirloin are too heavily sauced in its accompanying foie gras and Sauternes jus, which is a bit closer in consistency to a gravy, and, as with the horseradish before, only allegedly including its that stated liver, is a missed opportunity. Is it prepared to an ideal medium rare underneath it all? I think so! Which is promising. And, all things being equal, it’s still a hearty, respectable, wintery weeknight kind of entrée, even in its present state.
The halibut ($33) needs no improvement. Its tender filet is bathed in a perky green tomato and coconut broth that amplifies the typically subtle fish variety, enlivening its otherwise mild notes.
Livelier still: the baked Alaska ($12), set aflame atop the table. Sure, like steak’s heavy jus, the mascarpone ice cream-enrobed almond cake’s sweetness threatens to muddle the dessert’s more interesting, texturally dynamic qualities. And, like the pommes dauphine’s seemingly absent horseradish, the frozen treat’s supposed strawberry struggles to break through. But, like the rest, it’s ultimately pretty tasty, and a darn good example, albeit one with pretty aspirational bonafides, of what a mom-and-pop shop in NYC can be.
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The Vibe: Neighborly and cozy in comparatively spacious environs.
The Food: Self-billed as new-American-meets-Mediterranean with influences from the South of France. Do not miss the hearth-broiled Wellfleet oysters with Camembert, consider the American Wagyu sirloin, and bet on the halibut.
The Drinks: Stick to classic cocktails from the full bar, or choose from wine and beer selections.
Neeloo is located at 284 Grand Street in Brooklyn. It is open Wednesday-Sunday from 5:30pm-close.
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