A group of us recently had dinner at Lamb & Jaffy, a neighborhood newbie from Michael De Prima (formerly of Oceana) and Tara Steilen. This surprisingly good Greenpoint bistro is a lonely pioneer up at that end of Manhattan street, kept company only by Bleu Drawes' adorable little Jamaican joint and a handful of bodegas.
Bottom line: Lamb & Jaffy isn't flawless (Leaving skin on the red bell pepper julienne? That's just laziness...), but for the cuisine they offer, I found them to be inexpensive (especially since you get to BYOB), uncharacteristically (for NYC) accommodating and (big bonus) endearingly fun.
We were the first folks to arrive at 6 p.m., towing two bottles of cheap table wine (from the slim-pickings bottle shop next door), a few out-of-towners and a wiggly pre-schooler. Although we were reservation-less, we were escorted into seats immediately. This pleasure of convenience is certainly doomed; once word catches up with the place, it'll be brimming.
Starting out with slices of whole-grain bread, a searing skillet of addictively snackable "devils on horseback" (bacon-wrapped dates), and perfectly seasoned garlic-sautéed spinach, my tablemates oohed and ahhed while and the little one and I colored pictures with the crayons provided by our gracious hostess.
Our entrées were slightly slow to arrive, but lovely presentation and smart flavor interplay made their ultimate entrance a tablewide success. While my tilapia dish (slightly underseasoned, but balanced by a brightly acidic braised vegetable mix) was a delight, I found I was a covetous eater, also swooning over the skirt steak across from me and the rich chicken dish at my side.
Upscale dish presentation and ingredient choices give this place a feeling of maturity, while its sweet, thoughtful details maintain levity. You'll find the bathroom is lined with a shabby-chic collection of mirrors. Single-sheet paper menus are affixed with rubber bands to veneer boards. The overall aesthetic is grounded, yet airy, which seems appropriate when you learn that Lamb & Jaffy's intriguing name refers not to cuisine, as one of our party guessed, but rather the owners' favorite childhood toys. Aw!
The clientele, too, seem to represent the youthfully mature (or maturely youthful?) hipsters in the neighborhood. (Ugh.. am I mature now? There's an ugly thought.)
Maybe Park Slope, Cobble Hill & Williamsburg are all chockablock with these places, but Greenpoint is still thoroughly a world of pierogi and Zywiec. It's a crapshoot as to whether I can score a New York Times on a Wednesday.
So, with a measure of nervous hesitation, I'm just going to say it: I think Lamb & Jaffy is the neighborhood bistro I've been waiting for, and frankly, I can't wait to go back for seconds.
Lamb & Jaffy
1073 Manhattan Avenue (off Eagle Street)