In 2010, chef Michael Fiorianti helped Satis Bistro earn a place in Jersey City’s burgeoning dining scene. Six years later, he licensed the name from the owners and opened his own outpost of the Euro-style boite in Bloomfield.
Business wasn’t exactly gangbusters.
“I realized pretty quickly that people around here wanted something simpler. And to be honest, so did I,” says the 41-year-old Queens transplant and alumnus of Les Halles and Park Bistro in Manhattan. In April, Fiorianti cut his ties with Satis, closed for four days, and reopened with a new name and concept.
“This space was a Prohibition-era hangout called Braun’s Cocktail Tavern and Lounge,” he says. “[In all], it was a popular gathering spot for about 100 years. I want to bring that kind of place back to downtown.”
Most of the friendly staff remains, including attentive, Hungarian-born manager Laszlo Hajnal, who still hops from table to table with gracious concern.
The decor, too, is unchanged. If you miss the sign out front, you might think you’re still in Satis until you open the pub-style menu. There are some delicious standouts, such as Schaller & Weber bratwursts in tender puff pastry, and frilly tempura-fried maitake mushrooms, their crunchy crannies catching a fontina-fondue drizzle and specks of truffled sea salt.
Yet Fiorianti’s best starter feels like a Satis throwback: a terrine of sherry-braised oxtail and foie gras. Topped with sweet shallot marmalade, with house-pickled veggies for contrast, it was rich and sexy.
There were strong mains, too. My vegetarian burger, topped with cheese and avocado, was hearty and flavorful on a Balthazar brioche bun. Best was a Berkshire pork schnitzel, the buttermilk-brined cutlets crisp outside, tender within and accented by a horseradish-mustard sauce.
Too often, however, missteps ruled. Curried cabbage and potato pierogies arrived with emaciated bellies, the dough pan-fried to leather. Kale and chicory Caesar salad was drowned in a heavy, flavorless aioli dressing. Worse, the disconcerting crunch of sand grains showed the greens had not been carefully cleaned.
A pot of bland mussels in tasty fennel-tomato broth stopped us short when we encountered two funky ones, clearly past their prime.
Our hopes picked up with the arrival of a handsome Scotch egg, its crust golden and yolk oozing as we sliced it in two. However, an overpowering hit of caraway in the merguez sausage and the jarring discovery that the meat was undercooked triggered an immediate fork drop.
Fiorianti takes pride in his house-made pasta. Why, then, boil campanelle to oblivion and bury the ruffled bells in a bland, pasty, hazelnut-and-spring-pea pesto? How did ribbons of mafaldi in a bright (if inauthentic) all’ Amatriciana sauce end up tough and chewy? Jammed into the tangle, cardboardlike coins of fried house-made sopressata only added to our workout.
There were more disappointments: a congealed mat of polenta under an otherwise decent half chicken; a moist hunk of fresh cod muted by a dull leek-and-pea bed. If Fiorienti is focusing on tavern food, he should fix his fries; on both visits, ours were tepid and limp.
Desserts were cloying and poorly conceived. Braun’s is best thought of as a good bar. The former Satis now has a fresh, new list of appealing cocktails and an expanded whiskey list. The number and variety of craft beers continues to be a draw.
At the original Satis, Fiorianti proved himself a capable chef. If he wants to win a Bloomfield following, he needs to rededicate himself to basics. Start by fixing those fries.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Modern
Price Details:Appetizers, $8-$14; entrées, $10-$30; desserts, $5-$10
Ambience:Casual and welcoming; the bar, the heart of the scene, gets busy
Service:Polite, eager to help
Wine list:Full bar, craft cocktails, extensive beer and whiskey list; wines by the glass