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Braeburn

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Bistrong overdirects his menu at Braeburn.

117 Perry St. between Hudson and Greenwich,                 
(212) 255-0696 Open seven days; lunch, noon- 4 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-10:30 p.m.
CUISINE: American
VIBE: Cozy corner spot
OCCASION: First date, group dinner
DON’T-MISS DISH: Smoked brook trout, breast of duck, pumpkin cheescake
PRICE: Appetizers, $12; entrées, $26; desserts, $6
RESERVATIONS: Accepted

The other day, I called Braeburn. The general manager answered, “Thank you for calling The Harrison.”

Then he hung up, embarrassed.

It
was a natural mistake. Almost half the staff comes from The Harrison, a
Tribeca restaurant that embodies the idea of American bistro cooking.
In fact, some dishes make you feel like you’re at The Harrison and some
dishes make you wish you were at The Harrison.

What The Harrison does in a relaxed way, Braeburn does in a way that’s both fussy and tiny.

After an appetizer, you feel like Oliver Twist, or maybe Steve Martin
in “L.A. Story.” Perhaps the thing to do is order two of everything.
For some dishes, that’s a good idea. Like the smoked trout, which is
wonderful and would be really, really wonderful if it was twice as big.
The chef gets his brook trout from the Catskills, then gently smokes it in house over cherry and applewood.

Underneath
the trout is a horseradish cream purée and a combination of crushed
pecans, apples, Asian pear and chives. I’d order the horseradish cream
purée itself. It makes you wonder why we name every dish after a
protein. Everyone wants a bite, but there’s only three bites in the
whole thing. Sometimes, you can forget about size.

When I think of sausage, I don’t think of quail. When I think of quail, I don’t think of sausage. But Brian Bistrong
disassembles an entire quail and packs it into a single sausage, which
he serves over quinoa, yogurt, warm figs and quail jus. What you end up
with is quail gravy on your yogurt, which tastes much better than you
would expect.

Too often, Braeburn gives the impression that Bistrong’s trying too hard, as if he doesn’t trust his ingredients or the ­discrimination of the diner, who knows that simple combinations work the best.

There are times when Bistrong doesn’t let the ingredients do the work. Which of these items don’t belong in the same dish? (Think of this as a culinary SAT question.) Peekytoe crab, mayonnaise, avocado, grapefruit segments, grapefruit juice, pickled mustard seeds, ketchup, Cognac or canola oil? Bistrong uses all of these.

That poor, poor peekytoe crab. That was one of several dishes killed by complexity, including the scallops — which are perfectly seared — soiled by a gritty, watery walnut purée and braised endive with butter, vanilla bean, orange juice, beer and powdered sugar.

Braeburn has a lot going for it — a great corner location in the West Village, a rustic feel, an experienced chef, and yet somehow it ends up feeling like high-end middle-of-the-road. Maybe it’s an occupational hazard. Every cook wants to direct. The trouble is, sometimes they overdirect. Braeburn’s new, but with luck it will last.

And what would help it last are a few basic thoughts: Keep it simple, put more on the plate, think about the customers, and don’t worry so much about affirming whether you’re a good chef. Just feed us, and we’ll get the picture. And take a cue from the pumpkin cheesecake. Simple and satisfying — just the way every dinner should end.

By the way, Braeburn’s an apple.

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