Small Bites and Big Prices at Saul Bolton’s Botanica

  • Marianne Rafter

Maybe I didn’t learn to share properly in kindergarten, but try as I might, I cannot get behind the current tapas craze. That’s not to say I won’t dole out an occasional taste or two of an entrée to my dining companions (as in, wow, don’t you wish you ordered this? Well, you didn’t…sucka!)

Does that make me a fat, penny-pinching, gauche American? Perhaps, but I can’t in good consciousness spend $12-15 on a “sharable” plate of five fried potato wedges for three people, and then insist my tablemates go ahead and take the remaining two because I’m just so stuffed. I can’t do it anymore!

It’s especially hard not to feel covetous at a place like Botanica in Red Hook, which, under the recent tutelage of super-chef Saul Bolton, is turning out Caribbean-inflected small bites as riotously tasty as they are maddeningly diminutive. A $6 plate of tostones — usually good for a sustaining base of starch, if nothing else — were appealingly thin, crisp, greaseless and well seasoned, but left us looking for the other half of the plantain to sop up the rest of the vibrant, accompanying mojo sauce. A $10 market tomato salad with cucumbers and three basils was luxuriant summertime goodness on a plate, but if your selfish companions nab the last of the zippy pickled watermelon rind before you do, well, you’re shit out of luck.

And we were in ecstasies over the unctuously tender and deeply flavored plate of pernil with pigeon peas and rice — which, at $12, we wrongly assumed would be among the bigger feeds. Unfortunately, that too devolved into a fork battle to the death for the remaining smoky shards of fried pork skin on top.

What makes the small portions trend such a particular bummer at Botanica is that it inhibits one’s ability to enjoy one two many of their frequently extraordinary cocktails — like the Amaro Cobbler with amaro nonino, east india solera sherry, cacao prieto rum, lemon and angostura bitters, or the adorably house-carbonated and bottled Otro Clavo, with hendricks, aperol, st. germain, pineapple and almond tincture — without ending the night splayed in the bike rack, or puking among the cobblestones outside.

As such, we were a little too lightheaded to remember the exhaustive list of spirits, infusions, fruits and herbs that made up barkeep Dan Carlson’s diabolically delicious punch bowl, although we knew its indomitable contents filled our glasses several times over.

Maybe there’s a case for sharing after all.

220 Conover St, (718) 797-2297

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