The original purpose of the Michelin Guide, for those who might not be familiar, is to plot out restaurants for motorists riding on their Michelin tires. One star is a good restaurant, two stars is worth a detour, 3 stars means a destination in its own right.
I often wonder how this system translates to New York City. Most people don’t even have a car, even if you do, going from one borough to another can feel like a significant journey with the traffic. Regardless, since I vowed to traverse the city collecting all Michelin stars, each restaurant is a destination (except for maybe Danny Brown Wine Bar and Kitchen, which is luckily 5 minutes away).
What the Michelin Guide has done for restaurants like Danny Brown in Forest Hills and Saul in Boerum Hill is convert them from neighborhood standouts into destinations. In some ways, the little red book presents more opportunities for smaller restaurants. Consider this: New York Times only comes around once every 5~10 years for a full review, if you’re lucky, but Michelin grades yearly.
Saul is a restaurant that has done very well with the Michelin guide, having secured a 1 star status since 2005. The success has brought not just diners from all over New York, but also drawn an international crowd. However, if you walk down Smith Street, Saul looks just like all of the other neighborhood restaurants. There are still a good number of guests who walk by, peek at the menu, then decide to enter for dinner.
The decor at Saul is small, but intimate. There’s a bar by the back of the room, and exposed brick on both sides. Service is friendly, attentive, but still laid back to suit the Brooklyn vibe.
Resisting the temptation to go with the full tasting menu, we decided to order a-la-carte from the menu, which looked like leather bound family photo albums. Some flips upwards, some open sideways, an interesting touch.
The dinner kicked off with a chilled sweet corn soup, which had sliced avocado, crab meat, and tomato “ice cubes” which are actually jelly pieces of intense tomato flavor. The soup was very refreshing, and I tasted a hint of heat from spices added to the soup. Grilled Spanish Octopus with slow cooked pork belly combined two beautifully tender ingredients with a south east Asian tasting seasoning, consisting of grilled scallion, jicama, sriracha chili, honey, lime, sesame. Not quite what I was expecting from an American restaurant, but a solid appetizer nonetheless.
Entrees tasted much more American. Both the Pan Roasted Skate and Pan Roasted Crystal Valley Chicken Breast were served with potatoes, and utilizes bacon to flavor the main protein. The skate was extremely tender, and was nicely colored on the outside for flavor. The chicken was also very juicy, and deliciously cooked. While I find nothing wrong with the flavor of these two dishes, the similarity and perhaps interchangeable nature of these two dishes was slightly disappointing. The flavoring and accompanying ingredients failed to complement the main protein.
As a neighborhood restaurant, Saul is sensational, offering excellent cuisine at a reasonable price point. With its Michelin success, we judge the food with an entirely different scale, a comparison to its one star Michelin peers, where it ultimately falls short. If you live in Brooklyn, this is a great place for a comfortable and romantic dinner. However, it’s probably not worth the trek or subway ride from Manhattan.
What does this rating mean?
Saul (Make a Reservation)
140 Smith St
Brooklyn, NY 11201