Before you read this rave review, I want to assure you that I do not work for anyone related to this restaurant in any way, have no financial interest in it (other than having spent some money there), and don't know the owners (other than having talked to one during several great meals).
Once in a blue moon, you find a magic restaurant, where the food is insanely good, the service brilliant, and the prices too low relative to the food quality to keep you from going three days in a row (I did last weekend). 360 in Red Hook is my new magic restaurant.
With a $20, three-course prix fixe, the food has to be kept simple. In the case of 360, this is a great thing. Each dish tends to be constructed from a small collection of brilliant ingredients. Lots of amazing organic vegetables. For example, the heirloom tomato soup with fresh mozzarella and basil oil (kind of a fun spin on insalata caprese) was heavenly in its intense fresh tomato flavor. The Dorade (Sea Bream) with olive paste and haricots verts was delicate, crispy, and prepared pretty much as well as I've had fish in places like Gramercy Tavern and Charlie Trotter's (Scout's honor, it's that good, if not quite so complicated). Pork loin with sliced green apples in a smoky sauce made with apples and salt pork (I think) was, as a friend at the table said, "What pork should be." Scallops in a spinach puree one night and a leek and ginger puree the second night, were heavenly. Cooked to perfection with beautifully balanced sauces to go against them.
Some items that weren't on the prix fixe: Bluepoint oysters were tender and delicious. The cheese plate, though somewhat small, contained some amazing cheeses. Particular standouts for me were a cooked goat cheese called chaubier (never heard of it before) and a very young tomme de Savoie. Just perfection. A few other cheeses on the plate the first night were less exciting to me (e.g. the 7 year old New Zealand cheddar - cheddar for me can be wonderful but doesn't make any sense against good french cheese). In any case, they were happy to replace the cheddar with a wonderful substitute when I returned the next day.
Dessert: The first night, they explained that there had been some kind of disaster with their several-times-written-up creme caramel. We were kind of bummed that the only dessert choice was to be fruit salad. "It's good, though" said Arnaud, our sommelier, who was also a partner in the restaurant. In hindsight, he wasn't kidding. Amazingly great fresh fruit and a really interesting selection with fresh figs, kiwi, some kind of spicy plum, and nectarines, topped with some kind of delicate cream - don't think it was creme fraiche, but don't quote me on that. Second night, I did get to try the creme caramel. It was simple and brilliant - best I've had, though their fruit salad is a tough competitor.
I would be seriously remiss in my duties if I didn't talk about the wine experience. The list is short, though many wines are not on the list. These can be had simply by having a conversation with the aforementioned Arnaud, the fantastic sommelier/restaurant partner. I'd guess that roughly 90% of the wines on and off the list are under $30. Probably 60% are $25 or under. The list is entirely (?) French. He focuses on small growers, many of whom are renegade wine makers who use organic farming techniques and work outside the AOC's* (see below) guidelines.
Putting aside the amazing prices, the wine experience was great for two reasons. First, it's amazing to talk to Arnaud about wine. He is extremely friendly and accessible. Frighteningly knowledgeable. Grew up on a vineyard in Alsace. He has great stories about the guys who grow the wines too - he must do some serious traveling to find these things. Has a degree in oenology, as well as a hotel and restaurant degree. (For the record, his background came out because we asked him -- he's actually very modest). Anyway, the main point here is that he really knows wine and loves to talk about it. His descriptions of his wines were spot-on. Here is a man who has truly lovingly picked everything in the collection.
The second reason the wine experience is great is that the wines are fantastic. Over three nights there, I had six different wines. None was over $30. All were astoundingly good - the kind of quality I would expect to get in something more like a well-picked $60-$80 bottle of wine in most other restaurants. Furthermore, many of them are quite unusual. We had a white not on the list that had wildly intense minerals with overtones of citrus and vanilla. We had a medium-sweet Rose with dessert that was absolutely redolent with strawberry flavors. We had a medium to light-bodied red with intense black and white pepper. I'm not going to name any of these, because a big part of the fun is talking to Arnaud about what's good with what you've ordered.
The whole experience at 360 is just wonderful. The food and wine are brilliant. The service is helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. Pretty much, you can't get food or wine this good for this price. Add the great (even if perhaps a bit slow) service, and you've got a restaurant that is impossible. I don't know how they're going to stay as they are, so RUN! Don't walk:
360 Van Brunt Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn
P.S. When you're done with dinner, take a walk to the very end of Van Brunt street. A little dark and desolate there, but *what a view* - you're standing at the water on one corner of New York Harbor. Just before you get there, look to your right and you'll see an amazing view of the statue of liberty.
** For non-wine folks, a bit about the AOC and the wines at 360, as best I recall the explanation from the sommelier:
Many of the wines on the list at 360 have VDP or VDT (short for vin de table and vin de pays) written next to them. These are wines that do not fit into the standards set for the famous "brand name" types of French wines like "Bordeaux," "Cotes de Beaune," Chablis," etc.. The AOC is the French governing body that sets these standards, telling people whether they can label their wine a "Bordeaux" a "Burgundy" or whatever. They also dictate, for example, whether you can put the year your wine was made on the label. The argument in favor of the AOC is that you can't sell Welch's grape juice, mixed with vodka, and call it a Bordeaux.
There are several good reason that 360's list has so many VDP's and VDT's, rather than AOC-approved wines. All are good for you, the consumer. First, non-AOC approved wines are cheaper. It's like buying non-brand-name clothing. Chosen carefully, the quality may be the same or better, but you don't have to pay for the label. More importantly, many of the wines at 360 are grown organically. This is not the work of health nuts, it is people who believe:
A) that killing off everything that lives in your soil (pesticides do that) can actually result in less good wine, and
B) that adding things like granulated sugar to your wine in order to meet AOC requirements for standard sugar levels, does not help your wine taste good.
True, VDT and VDP can be signs of junky wine. On the other end of the spectrum however, they can also be signs of renegade wine growers who dislike standardization. You see, the problem with the AOC is that they force way too much standardization into what makes, for example, a Bordeaux. You have to have so much sugar, so much alcohol, etc... Thus, it is hard or impossible to make an AOC-approved Bordeaux without using a variety of chemicals on your soil and adding a bunch of junk - sugar, yeasts, etc. - to your wine, in order to create a highly controlled manufacturing process that will reliably yield a wine within the AOC's ultra-strict guidelines. Furthermore, as with most forms of standardization, they missed the point - standardizing alcohol and sugar levels doesn't guarantee even decent wine, so they are keeping great wine makers out while allowing rotgut producers to label their wines with fancy (and marketable) names.