April Bloomfield’s Quietly Triumphant Return

The partnership is canny: Bloomfield, for all her prodigious talent, has never been much for publicity; Stulman, although supremely gifted at creating dining rooms with good vibes, has never quite managed to get his restaurants famous for their food. At Sailor, he works the subtly nautical-themed space—maritime paintings, wooden built-ins, brass fittings—beaming his earthy charisma upon diners, pouring tastes of amaro, chatting amiably about how he had to open this place, in the former home of a takeaway Middle Eastern spot, now that he’s moved with his family to Brooklyn and wants to continue being able to walk to work. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the partnership between him and Bloomfield has resulted in a restaurant that is intensely, almost freakishly wonderful, especially given that (dare I admit it?) chefs of Bloomfield’s calibre still tend to stick to Manhattan.

In the Bloomfieldian way, Sailor’s menu speaks with self-effacing directness: Toast with Green Sauce, Smoked Pork Shoulder with Fennel. This ingredient-oriented understatement feels a bit Londonish (Bloomfield spent formative years at the River Café) and a bit Bay Area-ish. One dish on Sailor’s menu is an explicit homage to San Francisco’s legendary Zuni Café: an austere plate containing a small pile of shaved celery, a few squares of Parmigiano cheese, a little cluster of tiny purple olives, and two skinny anchovy fillets, whose pungent oil ties everything together. Platings are straightforward, service attentive but informal. The magic is performed in the kitchen, and the reveal occurs only in the eating. The green sauce on the toast is an entire verdant meadow of unexpected herbs like marjoram, a shivery punch of anchovy and capers, the peppery astringency of exquisite olive oil. The pork shoulder, a gargantuan hunk of meat, melts against the knife, all but merging into the caramelized-anise softness of the roasted fennel wedge alongside.

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You can take the food at face value (it’s delicious; all you really need to do is eat it), but the menu also offers a bit of cerebral playfulness, if you’re into that sort of thing. Mussel toast—a thick wedge of bread spread with aioli and piled high with shelled molluscs and doused in a tomato-tinged sauce—is effectively a bowl of cioppino (there’s the Bay Area, again) minus the broth. Radishes, poached to magenta brilliance in fruity lambic beer, are draped with translucent sheets of melting guanciale, delivering the sharp-and-fat cleverness of raw radishes with butter and salt (an iconic dish at the erstwhile Prune, another evident influence on Bloomfield’s menu), but softened, allowing unexpected elements to come to the fore. The classics on the menu, too, are evidence of a cook in complete control: a salt-cod brandade, briny and smooth, gets jazzed up with a swirl of safety-vest-orange pepper oil, whose floral sweetness plays up the jolie-laide salinity of the fish puree. The roasted chicken for two is excellent, with burnished skin and tender, herb-infused flesh. It is served directly on top of a pile of Parmesan-roasted potatoes and garlicky braised chard, which absorb all the golden drippings and nearly eclipse the pleasures of the bird itself. Bloomfield understands, better than most, that the chicken might be what you ask for when you order, but the everything-else about it matters just as much, maybe even more.

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