Ringed by a barbershop, a Subway franchise and a bodega, Brooklyn’s The Wallace seems an unlikely destination for Seared Sea Scallops with Hazelnut Cauliflower Puree, and Duck Breast with Fingerling Potatoes, Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Duck Demi Glace. And though the restaurant is in coveted proximity to the Barclay’s Center, the massive new sports and entertainment complex on Atlantic Avenue, it’s not a place you’re likely to just stumble upon. But it’s one you might want to make a concentrated effort to seek out.
It’s hard not to be wooed by chef and owner Jon Wallace’s “come from behind” story. Only six years ago, he was a successful magazine publisher for the popular hip hop magazine, The Source. After being unexpectedly laid off, he found himself scraping together a living as a dishwasher at Greenpoint’s Lamb & Jaffy. Unglamorous as the job was, it inspired him to further his culinary education, seeking hands-on experience in restaurants throughout the city. It eventually led to a Sous Chef position at Carroll Garden’s Buttermilk Channel, and then an appointment as Executive Chef at Thistle Hill Tavern in Park Slope. And now, after a crash course in the red tape-filled hassles of financing and liquor licensing, Jon Wallace is a newbie restaurateur.
Perhaps Wallace’s outsider status explains why his dishes tend to come more from the heart than the head… fussy French training be damned. At The Wallace, he manages to breathe life into the often snoozable Seasonal Bistro format, infusing expected menu items like Pork Belly, Pan Roasted Chicken and Butternut Squash Risotto with a welcome dose of personality, soul and spice.
Braised Oxtail over Creamy Polenta
A tongue-coatingly rich Chicken Liver Pate is enlivened by Blue Cheese, a sinus-clearing dose of Jalapeno, and a welcome pucker of Grapefruit Jam. The aforementioned Pork Belly gets kicked into high gear with a wallop of Star Anise, Coriander, and Cumin, tempered with an aromatic Apple Chutney. Fantastic Salt and Pepper Fries accompany an unfussy Burger, and even better, is a bowl of plump Mussels swimming in a brick red broth of Chorizo, Jalapeno, Garlic, Shallots and Beer. But the tour de force at The Wallace is an exquisite slow braise of Oxtail, draped over a creamy puddle of Polenta and topped with Breadcrumbs and Crispy Garlic Chips. Who needs yet another riff on Short Ribs when you can have a dish as satisfying and comforting as this?
While Jon Wallace’s path may have been circuitous, The Wallace proves he was meant to wear a chef’s coat. Besides, once you’ve had your life threatened by a rapper on your magazine’s cover photo (true story,) restaurant-related worries like fluctuating protein prices, and busted water heaters, are just child’s play.