The River Café (1 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY) offers some of DUMBO’s finest dining. Boasting a Michelin Star, it is described thus in the Guide: "meander through gorgeous gardens, soak in mind-boggling views of the Manhattan skyline and dig into delicious contemporary fare." It was a gray and rainy day when I visited the River Café so I didn’t meander much in the gardens – although they did look nice from a distance. During my meal I learned that the establishment employs a dedicated team of full-time gardeners.
The view of Manhattan is exceptional. I sat at the bar and was able to see from the Statue of Liberty all the way up past the Empire State Building. If taking in the skyline gets boring, the waterfront location of the Café offers an ideal setting for boat watching. For those who want a closer view, the Café provides a binocular stand on its deck.
Given the River Café’s reputation, my expectations were high when I came in for lunch. I took a seat at the bar and sipped on an excellent Manhattan while I perused the menu. After some consultation with the helpful and attentive bartender, I settled on the tuna tartare appetizer (Yellowfin Tuna tartare with hand-cut avocado, mild wasabi and cucumber salad, chili oil and sea salt, toast points) and the duck entrée (crisp duck breast with truffle honey and fennel pollen glaze, duck leg and potato croquette, organic carrots, julienne bok choy).
The tuna tartare was very good, perhaps a tad bland – although that may have been done intentionally to showcase the quality and freshness of the tuna. The accompanying wasabi was the real deal, not the western wasabi you run into at many sushi restaurants. The avocado was immaculately hand-sliced into strips of baffling thinness. I have no idea how I could ever slice an avocado so perfectly. The cucumber salad complemented the dish quite well. All in all, the tuna tartare was a very well-rounded and fairly light appetizer.
The crisp duck breast was simply delicious, among my personal top three duck dishes of all time. The truffle honey added just the right touch of sweetness to complement the fennel pollen glaze, and the meat itself was very tender and moist. The carrots and bok choy were perfectly cooked: just slightly tender. The very tasty duck leg croquette added novelty to the presentation. The maître d’ recommended an excellent Shiraz that paired perfectly with the flavor of the duck.
Moving on to dessert, I settled on the goat cheese cheesecake (passion fruit gelée, meringue, passion fruit ice cream). I am opinionated about cheesecake, so I was especially curious to experience the River Café’s rendition. It did not disappoint. The goat cheese imparted a pleasant sweetness to the dish, which was lighter than typical cheesecake. This was good, because I was also presented with an assortment of petit fours – excellent as well, with the white chocolate truffle and the macaroon as the pinnacles of my final course.
The River Café is very well-staffed, and the service was impeccable. The bartender was knowledgeable and friendly. The maître d’s wine suggestion was an excellent accompaniment to the crisb duck breast. The waitstaff bustled about efficiently and unobtrusively. The food was served promptly; my duck arrived the minute I had finished the tuna tartare.
The waterfront location and the big plate-glass windows that overlook the East River imbue the Café with a distinct ambience. The dining room is well-sized but feels ever larger and more open because of the windows. And the view is stunning. I know of no other restaurant where you can take in such a broad swath of the Manhattan skyline. The interior of the River Café is as immaculate as the view is expansive, with plenty of polished wood, brass and starched white cloth.