605 Carlton Ave., at St. Marks Ave., Brooklyn
Tues.-Sun., 5:30 p.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-1a.m; closed Mondays.
CUISINE Modern American cuisine
VIBE Romantic neighborhood haunt
OCCASION Intimate date; neighborhood dining
DON’T MISS DISH Spinach salad; seared diver scallops; lemon almond pound cake
PRICE Appetizers, $8-$12; entrees, $14-$29; dessert, $8-$10
RESERVATIONS For parties of six or more
It’s 1 a.m., do you know where your chef is? If you’re a regular at
James you do. He’s on the roof in his garden, among his herbs, weeding,
watering, unwinding. It’s the end of a long night in the kitchen at the
corner of 605 Carlton Ave. and St. Marks Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
the chef, has a short commute. He lives just above the restaurant and
just beneath his rooftop garden – 600 square feet of mint, sage,
rosemary, thyme, chamomile, oregano, lovage, lavender and basil. Sooner
or later, they make their way downstairs. Some go to the oven, to the
grill, into the drinks, and others simply perfume the room.
other restaurants, such a wealth of herbs could mean a plateful of
shrubs, a culinary potpourri. But in Calvert’s kitchen, each herb plays
the part he assigns it. The rosemary never upstages the lamb. The
lovage never outshines the potatoes
Calvert’s a talented young chef. He worked at Union Pacific and Bouley before becoming
a private chef for Annie Liebovitz. But at James, he’s created a
genuine, neighborhood restaurant.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the food is modest. I adored several things on
the menu. The sautéed skate is elegant, a golden fan that conceals perfectly
lovaged potatoes surrounded by a tangy caper and sherry sauce. There’s no
better canvas for fresh herbs than a blank chicken. And the roast chicken at
James is a minor masterpiece, crispy, tinged with lemon thyme served over
Let me say a word in praise of the shrimp – or really in praise of the
sunchoke puree beneath them. I could’ve eaten the puree without the shrimp. It
was nutty, sweet, and it had taken a hint from the garlic confit. And that
spinach salad – it was an anthology of textures. Chewy nubs of roasted,
marinated shiitake mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, and crunchy bits of parmesan
tuille, dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette.
Where there was trouble, it had less to do with the dishes themselves than
with their temperature. What should’ve been hot – sautéed brook trout – came
out room temperature. What should’ve been room temperature came out frigid,
which is not the way you want your heirloom tomatoes to arrive. This may be
nothing more than a growing pain, something that will be worked out.
One thing is already perfect, the feel of the room, the sense of invitation.
The neighborhood is quickly figuring this out. The bar is a block party of
sorts, a gathering of neighbors – a hipster couple, a young man in a Florent
T-shirt, a businessman with a glass of red wine in one hand and his briefcase
in another. They come for the tin ceiling and the wide mahogany bar as much as
they do for the James’ Revenge, made with rye, bitters, Cointreau and fresh
This is a bar I’d like to call home. I’d park myself and order what should
be Calvert’s signature dessert – a char-grilled slab of lemon almond pound cake
with homemade rhubarb sorbet. If we were all really lucky, we’d all live right
around the corner from a place like James.