For 3 years, I drove by Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, just minutes from my apartment in Kew Gardens. Each time I would peek inside, and make a mental note to call for a reservation. For 3 years, I either forgot or was drawn to the plethora of dining choices in Manhattan.
Through that time, I heard about the legal troubles with Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group about using the initials D.B., I read about the local praises, I even browsed the website a few times, which is quite well done for a restaurant. Still, I never went.
Then last month, they got a Michelin star. The first for Queens. I called and made a reservation, while feeling almost ashamed that I never discovered this neighborhood success story myself.
You often hear stories of Manhattan chefs changing gears to open a restaurant in the suburbs or their rural hometown. When they do this, it usually means they’re ready to retreat from the spotlight. Chef Danny Brown spent years in some of the top kitchens around Manhattan and in Europe, but in 2006, he decided to open Danny Brown’s Wine Bar & Kitchen in Forest Hills. Perhaps it’s the lack of PR, or that the restaurant isn’t particularly easy to get to by public transit. He was seldom heard from again, and the New York Times team of Bruni & Sifton never reviewed the restaurant.
Until the Michelin Star announcement.
For a restaurant in Forest Hills to receive this prestigious honor, it was definitely a shock for some. The twittersphere was mostly filled with congratulatory messages. Many were saying the star was much deserved, I had to find out for myself.
The restaurant is nice and cozy on the inside. Befitting of its name, the space is really dominated by the wine bar up front, and the open kitchen in the rear. On most nights, you’ll see Chef Brown expediting dishes out of the kitchen. In the day and age where attaching your name to the restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean the chef is working the kitchen, I was very happy to see the chef in command.
The menu is fairly straight forward. One side has cured meats and cheeses, and the other features small plates, and larger plates. There are elements of Spanish, Italian, and French cooking for most of the dishes.
Without a formal sommelier, I was pleasantly surprised by the knowledge of the waitperson.
We ordered 3 small plates to share, since the size of the dishes resembled tapas. The Serano ham croquettes were intensely creamy and satisfying, though a bit large for my taste. The sautéed white shrimp was fresh and cooked very well, seasoned delicately to showcase the natural flavor of the shrimp.
The grilled calamari was tender, flavorful, and served with arugula in a bowl full of beans. I noticed that portions were quite large, especially for tapas at this modest price point. It’s one thing to get more food, but when the fork picks up far too much bean with the calamari, the relatively bland beans really took away from the flavor of the seafood. Are the larger portions because of its suburban nature? I don’t know, but I find that the perfect portion size for appetizer is one that leaves you longing for just a bit more.
The entrées were executed brilliantly. The grilled pork was tender and the flavors accentuated by an excellent apple cider reduction. I ordered the chicken “under a brick”, because it’s a good measure of a chef’s skills, and it turned out absolutely fantastic. The sides are garnishes did not have the same flavor and polish as the main protein, and the plating is perhaps less inspiring than a Michelin star restaurant in Manhattan.
Desserts are very basic fare, but you cannot go wrong with a finely executed classic. Paired with an after dinner wine, it was very pleasurable.
Judging simply from what’s on the table, Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen definitely holds its own against successful Manhattan restaurants. There are little details here and there that prevent it from ascending to higher honors and ratings, but perhaps that’s exactly the comfort-zone chef Brown was striving for: a neighborhood gem with solid food, good service, and his name on the awning.
What does this rating mean?
Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen
104-02 Metropolitan Ave.
Forest Hills, New York
Reservations by Phone: 718 261 2144