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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The neon cocktail sign suggests Pigalle naughty. The flying gorilla and talking ghoul make for odd dining companions. And the disco ball? It fits the disco music. But why is there a “dance floor” filled with chairs? And what on earth does any of this have to do with Polish food?

These were just a few of the questions lingering after a trip to Damis, a restaurant that manages to both clearly fit in and sorely stick out amongst its Polish brethren on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
If the monkey doesn't get you, watch out for the ghoul

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This area has it's own style, and few deviate from the norms: exposed brick “home-cooking” restaurants; old-school milk bars; low-key diners; and wonderful, glorious butchers (reports coming soon). But a semi-upscale pseudo-nightclub festive full-bar neon-laden spot for fine Polish-American fare? Damis is blazing new trails indeed.

A little background: they opened about 14 months ago. The name is a combination of the owners' two sons (Daniel and Aramis). They played disco music at night, and have a disco ball. Dancing may or may not occur on Saturday nights, and private parties are welcomed. As is drinking (this is one of the few restaurants in the area with a full bar). The giant stuffed gorilla is silent, but the ghoul has a motion sensor, and either talks or sings or (sigh) “raps” when folks get near.

Have I set the mood, friend? Let's get to the food then. For distractions notwithstanding, Damis is first and foremost a restaurant. And they take a lot of pride in their eats. The manager insisted that, flavor-wise, there was “no match in all of Greenpoint,” and The Porkchop Express was ready to test his claim.
Polish Platter? They make it phat, sir!

But what to order? We asked the waitress for suggestions, and were immediately led to the Trout. The what? “The trout,” she repeated. “It's my favorite." I like trout as much as the next Slab, and was swayed by her sincerity. So we ordered one, along with a Polish Platter.

We were waiting patiently, pondering the particulars of Polish trout (the menu offers few-to-no descriptions), when our waitress returned with a real gift: slices of rye and a pot of smalec. I first tasted smalec in Warsaw, and it was a revelation, a terrific spread that makes bread sing and stomachs bulge. What is it, you ask? Creamy lard studded with smoked meat. Yes, gentle reader, smalec is Bacon Butter, and it's every bit as good as it sounds. Yet it's a tragically rare find, at least on American dinner tables. Damis prepares theirs in the “old style” (read: with bacon fat), and for that we were grateful. This was a real treat, a nice ice-breaker and palate-tickler.
Trout? No doubt!

Two plates of rye, a tub of B-double, and a Polish beer later, and the Trout in vegetables & butter garlic ($14.95) arrived. I must say, the presentation was pretty swank (far nicer than this shot suggests). Damis' chef is Polish, but he earned his chops on Cruise ships and fish is his forte. This didn't disappoint. Served whole and lightly pan-fried, the inside was spiked with fresh dill. A twist of lemon, and you're ready to reel in some flavor. Don't miss out on the bed of veggies either, a well-cooked buttery mix of broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots and peppers.

The Polish Platter ($12) also held its own. We weren't thrilled about the smoky-yet-tough kielbasa. And the thick-skinned, chewy pirogi received mixed reviews (tasty potato, mild kraut, bland meat). But the bigos (hunter's stew) was solid, a slow-cooked concoction of notably tangy cabbage and tender meats. The golabki (stuffed cabbage) was also well-executed, a tender pocket of plump pork smothered in a comforting, unusually spiced tomato sauce. Try some with a bite of thin, crisp oniony potato pancake.

We were hoping to order homemade blintzes to round things off, but had trouble hailing down the waitress. I think it had something to do with my Ms. Slab licking the smalec bowl earlier. Not that it mattered tho; we had eaten our share, and were starting to fear an encore from the ghoul. (One Transylvanian-style Rapper's Delight goes a very long way.) Plus, Damis had shown its hand: tasty, eclectic, and not without an admittedly odd charm. If you don't mind the relatively high prices and don't fear gorillas, or (better still) if the phrase “Bacon Butter” whets your wallabees, then throw caution to the wind and give it a go.

931 Manhattan Avenue
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY 11222

Entrees: between $6.50–$16.
(But Smalec is on the house!!)



Blogger Alicia T said...

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5:46 AM  

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