For the third year in a row, I’m going to attempt to eat every single item on Time Out New York’s annual 100 Best Dishes list. In no particular order, here’s my take on their Top 100. Let the gluttony continue…

It may not have been as momentous as when Sam Sifton gave Del Posto four stars last year in the NY Times, but I was surprised when Isa, the new Williamsburg hot spot, was given a perfect score of 5 stars by Time Out’s resident food critic Jay Cheshes. The review mentioned how exciting and experimental the cooking was here and said it worked on every single mark. So this immediately made me more excited to get the Rib Eye, which had appeared on Time Out’s list before the review was published.

The menu at Isa, which consists of about a dozen small plates and two entrées, changes daily – even down to the menu’s art design. Now when a server asks if you have a question about the menu, it doesn’t have to be limited to the food itself. I had called ahead to assure that the rib eye was an option and so we made the trip out to Williamsburg and found the ski-lodge of a restaurant nestled inside a dark building. Upon entering, the smell of the wood burning oven overtook us and we wanted to sit down and order as quickly as possible (because it smelled too delicious!)

The choices were overwhelming, mainly because everything sounded so unique and delicious. We finally narrowed it down to a few small plates and the aforementioned rib eye.

We sat in the open kitchen area so really got those intoxicating smells and were able to watch our food being prepared. The first dish to arrive was simply called Tartare and it was a delicately composed disc of raw steak on a mound of sunchoke purée alongside a matching disc of black flax seeds which provided a wonderful crunchy contrast to the delicate tartare.

Following that, we had an excellent plate of smoky calamari bodies served with pools of black squid ink, a tobiko (fish roe) cream sauce, and dill (although I tasted it, but could not locate the herb). And a rich and flavorful porridge (think risotto) with barley and meaty roasted mushrooms was warming and phenomenal.

The rib eye looked much more like a piece of art than a steak dish. It’s a whopping $33 which I thought was too expensive for two long slivers of meat. I suppose you’re paying for the abstract presentation and quality ingredients, but I was still hoping for more food at that price.

Time Out says it’s so tender that it’s served with a butter knife. Well, not anymore I’m afraid. We were each given a steak knife to cut through the meat and while it was tender and full of charred smoky flavor, it wasn’t as tender as some of the other large rib eyes I’ve had recently (see Red Farm, Tertulia). It was the accompaniments that made this version interesting. The white powder on top (which I believe was some incarnation of bone marrow) gave the dish a wonderful texture and the pickled onions, baby beets, and bitter dandelion greens added earthiness.

We also got two equally weird (and tasty) desserts: grapefruit curd with mascarpone and rich sunchoke cream with what they call chocolate dust.

Isa seems to be into crunchy textures, which is something I love. Every dish had something to crunch and play with. It was fun and the food was all well-executed and innovative. But I left still craving something. Perhaps it was the never-ending appetite-inducing smell that emanated from the kitchen or maybe it was the delicate portions or just that I’m a hungry pig. Either way, I am eager to come back to Isa to have another exciting experience.

Would Isa’s Rib Eye make my Top 100 of the year? It wasn’t my favorite dish on the menu, especially considering the price and the size, but it was still avant garde and tasty enough to warrant an 8 out of 10.

ISA
348 Wythe Avenue (between South 4th and 3rd Street)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(347) 689-3594
isa.gg
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About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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