My father’s birthday fell on Easter weekend this year, and even though he enjoyed my homemade rice tart, it hardly substituted for a proper celebration. So on Saturday night my parents, Jim, my sister Melissa, her boyfriend Nedim, and I convened at the River Café on Brooklyn’s waterfront to get his party started.
With its magnificent view of the East River, Manhattan, and the Brooklyn Bridge, the River Café has long been known for its incomparable setting. In the past, whenever I visited Grimaldi’s Pizzeria a few doors away, I always strolled down to the River Café after my meal, curious about what kind of experience awaited behind its romantic, vine-covered exterior.
As my family and I admired the view and the gorgeous flowers in the expansive dining room on Saturday night, we were treated to a small espresso cup of creamy butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds. We then moved on to our three-course prixe fixe dinner, choosing from the French-inspired, seafood- and meat-heavy menu ($95 per person).
Melissa and I started with wild rock lobster tails accompanied by blood oranges and cauliflower purée. The two delicately balanced tails were light, fresh, and infused with gentle citrus flavors. The guys raved about their foie gras appetizers: My father and Nedim tried the sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras, while Jim’s was presented in two different ways, as a classic pressed terrine and as a poached roulade. Mom chose the oysters glazed with a lemon-pepper hollandaise and caviar.
I liked the look of my second course, a crispy duck breast served with a clever duck meat and potato croquette in the shape of a duck leg. I raised my fork to my mouth, took a bite of the dense meat, and tasted…salt. Melissa, who had ordered the same dish, agreed. After a few bites, the salt thankfully receded a bit, and I directed my attention to the homey croquette. As for the rest of my party, Jim, Nedim, and my mother were pleased with the lobster special, while my father enjoyed his Colorado rack of lamb.
For my dad’s birthday I had ordered a decadent chocolate cake filled with chocolate caramel mousse from the Café’s pastry department. We also sampled a few desserts from the menu, my favorite being the light and creamy goat cheese cheesecake with passion fruit gelée, meringue, and passion fruit ice cream.
Overall, the River Café helped us celebrate my father’s birthday in style, with a very good, beautifully presented meal in an amazing setting. My only complaint is that the service was perhaps a bit too attentive: Throughout our meal, numerous waiters hovered around the table, ready to clear our plates at a moment’s notice. When I heard my sister reprimand one of them for trying to clear her appetizer away before she was finished, I cringed. That waiter should have been warned not to try and take unfinished food from the Grillo family.
As we walked outside after admiring the flowers and view of the Brooklyn Bridge for a second time, Melissa said, “Wow, did we just have an experience?”
Yes, Melissa, I think we did. My curiosity has finally been satisfied.
The River Café, 1 Water Street, in DUMBO, Brooklyn. T: 718-522-5200. Reservations are recommended. Dinner jackets are required.