Chicago native Greg Baxtrom has lived in Prospect Heights for some 15 years now, right down the street from three of his four New York City restaurants: the acclaimed farm-to-table spot Olmsted, which started it all back in 2016; Maison Yaki, where traditional French flavors and techniques were incorporated into an array of snackable skewers; and the family-forward Patti Ann’s, named after his schoolteacher mom and featuring an Instagram-famous blooming onion. It’s all been very cozy here on Vanderbilt Avenue.
For much of last year, however, Baxtrom was in Manhattan, opening the fine-dining Five Acres (which is excellent, by the way) as part of the heavily hyped restaurant revival of Rockefeller Center. The pressure to be up and running there in time for the tourist hordes of the holiday season was enormous, but once the winter doldrums hit, and Baxtrom and his team, led by culinary director Sherry Cardoso, got a bit of a breather across the river, they wanted to focus on Brooklyn again.
“We opened up something big and fancy in Manhattan,” Baxtrom tells Brooklyn Magazine, “but we also take this neighborhood seriously, and our role in the community.” It was time to “double down” on Prospect Heights, as he put it.
The first part in what he promises will be an ongoing project: the vibey date-night favorite Maison Yaki is gone, replaced by a classic French bistro called Petite Patate, or small potato, with a compact menu of classics like escargot, onion soup, steak frites, crepes, and a pot of mussels.
Steak frites, $38 (Scott Lynch)
“The neighborhood told me they didn’t really need another bar,” Baxtrom says. “We had high tops which made it kind of difficult for older people to come, and families. We’re going to move Maison Yaki somewhere else, maybe make it the first place we do outside of NYC, but we want to make sure we’re always appropriate for the neighborhood we’re in.”
Last Friday was opening night of Petite Patate, Baxtrom was working the pass, and the place was hopping. The high tops and backless stools at Maison Yaki have been replaced with new, more conventional (and comfortable) tables and chairs, and our party settled in for a feast.
The starters we tried were terrific, led by the fried cornichons, which are like bracing hits of acid hidden inside thick coats of crisp, salty batter. A paper cone overflowing with these beauties comes with a ceramic crock of dijon mustard on the side, and it’s an instant crowd-pleaser.
The fried cornichons ($12), with spiced nuts, left ($8) (Scott Lynch)
Also very good was the bowl of spiced nuts, the old bar-food warhorse infused with fresh spirit by an abundance of duck cracklings. The salade Lyonnaise features a poached egg in the nest of frisée, of course, but at Petite Patate they batter and fry the centerpiece for added flavor and texture.
Salade Lyonnaise, $16 (Scott Lynch)
And the escargot is served “en croute,” a twist, says Baxtrom, that “makes the dish more approachable, rather than more cheffy. Because who doesn’t want more puff pastry?”
Escargot en “croûte,” $18 (Scott Lycnh)
For the steak frites, a lovely New York strip loin comes in a puddle of mushroom and marrow sauce. The fries are fluffy, crisp, and salty, which is to say they are perfect.
The mussels come swimming in a fennel broth, which you should obviously soak up with the toasted sourdough slices jutting out of the cast iron pot. The accompanying spicy “rouille” rules as well, and goes great with everything you might have left on your table.
Mussels a la bouillabaisse, $30 (Scott Lynch)
You can also order a dish of cavatelli with duck confit, a chicken paillard with frites, or a grilled loup de mer with leeks. But the sleeper hit here may be the only vegetarian entree, called simply “French crepes” on the menu. This is a pair of the chewy pancakes folded over each other, studded with peas and carrots, and shiny in a bright orange wine reduction. It’s decadent and delicious.
French crepes, $22 (Scott Lynch)
Never skip dessert at a Baxtrom restaurant. At Petite Patate your choices are a frangipane tart with cranberry if you’re feeling fancy, or vanilla profiteroles with chocolate sauce if you’re feeling fun. Booze-wise, the cocktails cost about $13, there are four beers on tap, and a wine list with plenty of bottles in the $50 and $60 range.
Profiteroles, $12 (Scott Lynch)
True to form there’s a personal story behind the name Petite Patate, in addition to it just being a cute alliteration. “My dad has a nickname for everyone in my family,” Baxtrom said. “My sister is Binks, my mom is Sparky, and I’m Spud. So when I got a dog, and it was a boy, I thought, well, I’ll just name my firstborn Spud. Now if I’m in the room with my dad, and my dog is there, we both look up when he says ‘Spud.’ Which is really wholesome.”
Petite Patate is located at 626 Vanderbilt Avenue, between Park and Prospect Places, and is currently open on Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 to 10 p.m., and on Saturday from 5 to 10.