What I’m Loving: Governor
Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t get as excited about restaurant openings as I used to. Don’t get me wrong: I love discovering a great, new restaurant. I just don’t like to chase them down like I used to, trying to be one of the first to snag a table. Especially in the summertime when there’s so much great produce everywhere and you can’t help but become an accidental chef yourself.
That’s why I missed all the brouhaha over Governor in Dumbo. I’d heard rumblings about the restaurant when it first debuted in Dumbo in July and I kept telling myself I’d get there, but I didn’t until just last week. What an exciting place to eat! Really! The sourdough bread’s baked in-house, and it’s so good you’ll wish they sold it by the loaf to-go. The butter’s churned in-house, too, then topped with an incredibly tasty (and interesting) salt made by dehydrating the rind of Grayson Cheese. In my opinion, good bread and butter is always a great start to any evening. (Carbs and fat be damned!) I ordered a drink called the “Cool Hunt Club,” a very zen blend of cucumber juice, vodka, gooseberries and lime that reminded me of something you might order at a spa if they served alcohol. And there’s another called “The Underpass,” a terrific and herbaceous dark libation with dark rum, grapefruit zest, bitters and agave. It’s the kind of drink you’d want make a habit of if you lived in the neighborhood.
Governor’s a funky, industrial looking eatery, a former factory spread out over two floors, that feels a lot like a theater on off off Broadway. There’s mezzanine seating overlooking the orchestra, filled with more tables, a green vertical garden and an open kitchen. If you want, you can sit at an eating counter that looks directly into the kitchen, so you can watch the chef, Brad McDonald, and his crew cooking your dinner. It doesn’t really look like the kind of restaurant where creative and ambitious food might be served, but that’s what’s coming out of this kitchen. McDonald cooked at Copenhagen’s Noma and Per Se before setting his sights on Brooklynto launch a small restaurant empire that includes Colonie and Gran Electrica.
His cooking is unexpected in the best way possible. Take the amuse bouche, for example: It was a curious ensemble of Paddlefish Roe, Crispy Sunchokes, and Brown Butter Ice Cream. Now, I always worry about savory dishes that involve sorbet or ice cream no matter how good the chef. There’s something about the texture, chilly temperature and sweetness that screams that it’s on the wrong side of the menu. This was a delicious exception. The luscious brown butter ice cream was the perfect foil for the salty, slippery roe and the sunchoke crumble lent it an earthiness and tons of crunch. I started with the Poached Oyster Toast with generously sized oysters perched on the same, house-baked bread bathed in a luscious, bisque-like Oyster and Lobster Emulsion. An appetizer of Celery Root is just as good, though much more complex, with wide shavings of celery root that mimic pasta in a creamy cheddar sauce. The crowning touch is a sprinkling of lemon zest, and more importantly, a grated preserved egg yolk over the top of the dish, which gives it a richness that could rival any good pasta dish. There was a grilled salad of sorts, made with Romaine cooked on the plancha, and scattered with sunflower seeds, champagne grapes and yogurt.
One of my favorite dishes on the menu is an entree of Fluke, steamed over apple cider and served in a frothy fluke jus, and mingled with glazed fennel, sunny, sweet bursts of sun gold tomatoes, and sucrine lettuce leaves. The weakest link on the menu were the Short Ribs, which were overcooked and lacking in flavor, but the huckleberries and mushrooms on the plate did a fine job distracting us from the meat itself. McDonald must have a thing for celery root because it turned up on the dessert menu in a Celery Root Cake, consorting with meringue and a nicely tart concord grape sorbet. Even better was a Brioche Macaron topped with fresh, macerated Tristar Strawberries, Cajeta (cow’s milk syrup) and a dollop of Strawberry Sorbet. Named after Robert Gair (nicknamed Governor), a corrugated cardboard businessman who put Dumbo on the map, Governor is angling to make Dumbo a dining destination. If you’re the type who doesn’t chase restaurants, you’ll want to make an exception for McDonald’s cooking at Governor.
Start With: The Underpass Cocktail
Don’t Miss: Bread & Butter, Poached Oyster Toast, Celery Root with Preserved Egg, Fluke
Finish With: Brioche Macaron With Tristar Strawberries