The Girl Scouts have this saying: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.” But this motto can easily apply to other things, as well. For instance, menu items. Greenpoint’s Red Star Bar, known for its sports and wings and burgers, is making some changes in the kitchen with the recent hire of Executive Chef Walter Donadio. They do not plan on revamping the menu in its entirety, but simply shedding the less successful items, polishing up the standard favorites, and adding some new pizzazz throughout. Last Thursday night, January 20, Red Star shared their upcoming menu at an informal tasting dinner where local media got to taste Donadio’s latest culinary creations.
Donadio, who has a European and Asian (predominantly Japanese) culinary background and experience at fine-dining establishments such as Brasserie and Nobu 57, prepared an ambitious four-course sampling meal. Highlights were the truffle-infused mac ‘n’ cheese, the grilled salmon with horseradish-tarragon cream and served with sautéed spinach and celery root mash—all deserved the same amount of stars—and the fried cheesecake (way better than the deep-fried Mars bar from A Salt & Battery any day) with vanilla and chocolate sauces.
For a spicy dish, the skirt steak with an ancho chile rub and au poivre sauce could have had more of a kick; and the chicken stuffed with sage, goat cheese and Turkish apricots (and served with kale and celery root mash) might have been better if a bit less sweet. The blue crab salad with mango salsa scored high, but the purple potato crisp it arrived on was a bit thin and left something to be desired. If you are a big ginger lover, then the bibb salad with butter lettuce, apples and bleu cheese is for you—its honey-ginger vinaigrette might be slightly overwhelming otherwise.
But isn’t feedback, positive or negative, just what one hopes to get out of an event like this? “People’s opinions are important to us. We don’t want to just put it out there and then [ignore the responses]. You know, that’s why you’re here. We want to hear these things,” General Manager Eric Hall said.
Hall found Donadio through the French Culinary Institute, and one of the qualities he liked in him from the beginning was his respect for what came before him. And his patience. Donadio didn’t want to tear down the menu Hall and the Red Star staff had worked hard to create just to make it all his own. Donadio’s plan upon coming to Red Star was to observe it for a few months—he has now been there about three or four—and only then to start to evaluate and make suggestions for changes and replacements. “That was one of the things I liked about him right off the bat—the fact that he knew we were a successful place and [he didn’t] need to go in and reinvent the wheel. You need to evaluate and then sort of tweak things as you go. We’re looking to get better and we’re looking to build on what we already do; we’re not looking to head in a completely different direction or completely change everything. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Hall said offering a shrug that implied a “capisce?” at the end of his statement.
Hall and the Red Star crew were looking to bring in somebody with innovative ideas and creative skills—someone that could take classic favorites: sandwiches, wraps, salads, fries, etc.—and make them unique and cutting-edge while still keeping things simplistic. Yet calling it just plain old comfort food would be an insult. Comfort food with a flare, on the other hand—now that’s more like it. “Comfort food—it’s a common term but I think it’s also a misinterpreted term . . . and I almost feel like it’s demeaning to what he [Donadio] does . . . You can take your standard dishes, add better ingredients and new twists, and make something that’s ten steps ahead of the next guy who’s making a hamburger,” Hall said.
Donadio shared a similar sentiment: “I love comfort food but I always try to focus on [adding] great ingredients to comfort food; it’s not something you can get only in the big restaurants. So that’s my main goal in this place, [adding] great ingredients [to] comfort food and elevating the presentation of it.”
You can expect the updated, snazzed-up menu in about two weeks or so, give or take a few days. Also on tap for Red Star is the “Best Wings in Brooklyn” contest on February 12. While the new and improved menu probably won’t be on the forefront of your mind that day (and that day alone), the fact that Jay-Z’s wings spot Buffalo Boss is one of the contestants might make up for it, just this once. Oh, and rumor has it, there is a 50/50 chance Jay-Z himself may make an appearance. In the meantime make sure to check their site: redstarny.com or Facebook page for Red Star’s 2.0 menu debut and word about possible celebration plans yet to be determined.