Mention of a lake can conjure up so many evocative images—a watery moon, a forlorn pair of Adirondack chairs, morning mist, leaping frogs, echoes of children’s laughter. When David Rosen decided to close Savalas, his neighborhood bar of six years on Bedford Avenue, and reopen it as a restaurant and bar six months later with two other partners, he decided to call it Masten Lake, after a captivating spot in the Catskill Mountains where he and his family spent many lazy summers. The lake holds cherished boyhood memories for him: fishing, swimming, rock climbing, lakeside barbecuing, and making new and lasting friends. He says the idea behind the restaurant is his memory of the lake, a place for friends and family to come together, have a drink, enjoy a good meal, and just relax.
David has been a bar owner in Williamsburg for 11 years and is also part owner of the bustling dance bar, The Woods, on S. 4th Street. But he was looking for a new challenge. “Now that I’m father of a two-year-old, I’m thinking about a place where families can enjoy eating a meal together. Masten Lake is where you can bring your kids for brunch, your parents or your friends for a nice dinner, or come alone for a glass of wine or cocktail at the bar,” he says.
The renovation took almost six months. The semi-open kitchen is all-electric, with induction cook tops. “It’s easier to clean and it’s better for the environment,” he explains. The dining room is a blend of country charm and urban grit; there are brick walls and outdoorsy, white-slatted benches and tables covered with sheets of zinc. Each table has a small vase of country flowers. The disparate elements—cork ceilings, brick walls, industrial table tops, and modern hand-blown lamps—work together to create a dining space that’s pretty and relaxing, yet still posh and urban.
David says he likes food that is bold, that takes risks. “I don’t like ‘do it by number’ restaurant meals. I like food that has soul behind it.” He describes Masten Lake’s dishes as New American with an Italian inflection. Chef Angelo Romano, who worked at Lupa in Manhattan and Roberta’s in Bushwick, has penned a tight little menu using intriguing, seasonal ingredients. There are many exotic finds from the greenmarket, like seagrass, husk cherry, Ogen and Charentais melons (cantaloupe-like melons, originally from Israel and France), Dragon Tongue beans (heirloom beans from the Netherlands), agretti (an Italian heirloom herb), and hon shimeji mushrooms (a hard-to-cultivate Japanese fungus). For protein, he serves rabbit, duck, snapper, and strip loin. The menu is seasonal, so by the time you visit, all the ingredients may have changed.
The plates are beautifully presented (some remind me of spa food), and the flavors are light and subtle, with a dollop of fresh ricotta here and a smear of black garlic paste there. Little scoops of vibrantly colored fruit sauces add a bit of sweetness and tang. Some are garnished with spidery seagrass that make everything look so pure and healthy.
The pasta is mainly house-made. There is tagliatelle with pork shoulder, tomato, and pecorino; cencioni with ragu bianco, chicken and celery; and, pici with crab brodo, cod cheek and burrata (a creamy version of mozzerella).
There is a small selection of American artisanal cheeses (mainly from Vermont), including a cow’s milk cheese from Cobb Hill Cheese, a sheep’s milk cheese from Woodcock Farm, and something called Gore-dawn-zola, a cow’s milk cheese from Green Mountain Blue Company. Ballad, a goat cheese, is from the Andante Dairy in California. Chef Romano says he chose American cheese because he wants to promote local products, but also because he believes the new cheeses are simply much more interesting. The wine and cocktail program is an important part of Masten Lake’s appeal. Marisa Mendez Marthaller is the wine director and the restaurant’s general manager. Among her offerings are biodynamic wines from France and Italy. A new trend in fine dining, biodynamics is a farming practice that allows grapes to grow with native plants. Many vintners believe the naturally enriched soil gives the wine a true sense of terroir. Other practices include coordinating sowing and harvesting with lunar phases to imbue the fruit with a spiritual quality.
“The wine selection is small, but it’s very well edited,” Marisa says. “We love to advise diners on wine and food pairings.” The wines are priced from $8 to $12 a glass and $30 to $120 a bottle. Marthaller is known to champion talented women winemakers, among them Italy’s young wine savant, Arianna Occhipinti, whose Tami Frappato (Sicily), a fruity natural red wine, is on the list. There is also Fontereza’s Sangiovese from Tuscany, a wine made by two sisters, Margaret and Francesia Padovani. If you’re in an especially celebratory mood, go for the $120 bottle of Frank Pascal’s “Tolerance” Champagne Rosé. Frank Pascal is a rising star in the world of biodynamic champagne and wine. He works from a small vinier in the town of Baslieux Sur-Chatillon, in the Champagne-Ardenne region, and his products have only recently become available in America.
There are plenty of house and seasonal cocktails; the Cardinale combines Luxardo Amaro Abano, scallion, and sparkling wine, while the Marciano mixes Laird’s Apple Jack, Boomsma Genever, Absinthe, and cherry juice. There are also several draft beers.
If you have a spirit of adventure and a love of foraging at the greenmarket, you’ll love eating at Masten Lake.
David is one of the organizers of Taste Williamsburg & Greenpoint, an annual food festival that promotes North Brooklyn restaurants and artisanal food, wine, and beer producers. All proceeds will go to the building of North Brooklyn Town Hall Community and Cultural Center. This year it will be held September 18th, on the waterfront at 5 N. 11th Street. It’s a ticketed event, so check the website (tastewg.wordpress.com) for more information. When you go, be sure to stop by Masten Lake’s table, sample some of Chef Romano’s dishes, and say hello to David, Marisa, and the gang.
285 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg