Ten years ago — heck, even three years ago — there’s no way we would’ve guessed that the western end of Greenpoint Avenue, right before it dead-ends onto Transmitter Park, would become one of Brooklyn’s most happening restaurant rows. Down here where once only Ovenly stood (and even that only opened in 2012), there’s now back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back drinking and dining destination spots, from Grand Republic Cocktail Club to 21 Greenpoint to Panzon, and El Pinguino.
And the latest opening may be the most exciting of them all, the brand new Lingo from Misako and Robert Hsu, and former Bessou executive chef Emily Yuen, who’s firing up a killer menu of what she described to us as “Japanese-influenced American food.”
Yuen grew up in Vancouver, then cooked all over the world (Melbourne, London, Singapore) in the sorts of places that earn Michelen stars before moving to Brooklyn, specifically East Williamsburg, about eight or nine years ago. She tells Brooklyn Magazine that it was her experience as executive chef at Bessou, in Noho, that taught her to love Japanese techniques and ingredients.
Lingo, then, represents the culmination of all of Yuen’s experience, creativity, and personal culinary style. Put another way, “I feel very focused,” she says. “This is definitely the food that I want to eat.”
There are lots of terrific options here if you just want to snack on some small plates while downing a cocktail (around $17), or a glass of wine ($12 to $19) at the bar up front. The smoked tamago sandwich seems destined to become the signature starter — or, at least, the most likely to be Instagrammed — and it’s a beauty, with creamy, house-smoked egg salad slathered between slices of milk bread and topped with a not insignificant stack of salmon roe. Yes, it’s a three bite appetizer, but each one is a bite of heaven.
Smoked tamago sando, $15 (Scott Lynch)
Lingo’s smoker also gets called into service for the snowy cheddar blanketing Yuen’s funky steak tartare, sweetened slightly with black sesame and served with squares of nori wraps.
Steak tartare, $19 (Scott Lynch)
It is also deployed for the olive oil she uses to drizzle over a stellar miso eggplant dish, which arrives with the tender headliner sitting in a shallow puddle of stracciatella.
Miso eggplant and stracciatella, $16 (Scott Lynch)
There’s a grilled cabbage with tahini, raw albacore tuna on a crisp crepe with yuzu sauce, and a grizzled oyster chawanmushi, the Japanese egg custard.
And if you’re having a full sit-down dinner in the pretty back dining room (love those potato chip-looking light fixtures), the entree-sized “large plates” include the best bird I’ve eaten so far this year. Yuen’s spicy fried chicken is a whole cornish hen, robust and juicy, with an impossibly light and crackling skin — the secret, she says, is vodka — and strewn with chili gremolata.
Spicy fried chicken, $25 (Scott Lynch)
The clam miso brodo is pretty brilliant as well, a mess of tender bivalves in a luxurious bacon dashi broth that you’ll want to soak up with the side of grilled sourdough.
Clam miso brodo, $25 (Scott Lynch)
A pile of almost comically plump ricotta spinach tortelloni are paired nicely with thin slices of fatty speck, and if you want something super hearty, the Lingo pot pie, stuffed with hokkaido style braised beef curry, leeks, English peas, and a marrow bone jutting through the top crust, seems like a surefire party pleaser.
Ricotta spinach tortelloni, $24 (Scott Lynch)
Both of Yuen’s desserts are delightful, maybe especially the bowl of oolong tea ice cream draped in gooey white chocolate.
Oolong tea ice cream, $11 (Scott Lynch)
But the condensed milk panna cotta, paired with syrupy candied “dream grapes,” is a satisfying ender as well. It’s all already a lot, but Yuen says she plans on adding to the menu in the coming weeks.
Condensed milk panna cotta, $13 (Scott Lynch)
It’s been a long time coming for the partners. The space was a shell when they took over, with no kitchen or venting, and Misako, who also runs a catering company with Robert, says the build out took almost two years. That they’d be sharing the once-sleepy block with a murderer’s row of great eateries was a pleasant surprise.
“I didn’t expect all these restaurants would be here when I signed the lease,” Hsu said. “My husband and I live in Long Island City and during the early pandemic we could not do so much, so we went walking over here a lot. We really got to know Greenpoint, and love Greenpoint, and knew this is where we wanted to open Lingo.”
Lingo is located at 27 Greenpoint Avenue, between West Street and Transmitter Park, and is currently open on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 5 to 10:00 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10:30 p.m. (347-529-4584)