Friday, November 14, 2008


We have been meaning to write about our friend, Deborah Williamson, for awhile now, ever since she and her husband Bryan Calvert opened their Brooklyn restaurant called James. It is an amazing place. Bryan is the chef, and he's incredible. We remember him from way back when he worked at Union Pacific under Rocco DiSpirito as a sous chef. Deborah handles all the details at the front of the house. She knows how to make anyone feel right at home. We bet it has a lot to do with her Fort Worth, Texas upbringing. We met her Dad when she and Bryan got married, and he is perhaps the happiest, coolest Pop on the planet Earth!

James is named after Bryan's grandpa, and its atmosphere is tin ceiling, distressed wall chic. Grandpa's portrait hangs right over the door to the kitchen.

They found this amazing chandelier that emits light in a unique way. It doesn't translate in the picture here, so you have to just go there yourself to see what we're talking about.

Here's a great little summary of the place by The New Yorker:

Tables for Two


605 Carlton Ave., at St. Marks Ave., Brooklyn (718-942-4255)

by Mike Peed October 13, 2008

Deep in the brownstones of Prospect Heights, away from the cafés of Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues, with their homelier crowds and everyday fare, James glows like a well-kept campfire, luring diners to an otherwise quiet residential block. For several years, this historic Brooklyn neighborhood has been enduring a growth spurt, and the locals’ eager acceptance of James, coupled with what is essentially a no-reservation policy, has led to hour-long waits. Since James has little room to spare, would-be diners are sometimes forced curbside, left to watch the action within. Once you’re seated, the place is dreamlike: amber beams from an outré Lucite chandelier are reflected in opposite mirrors, and James’s affectations—the grand palms at the end of the bar; the deliberately distressed wall; the copious votive candles—evoke Rick’s Café Américain, via Klimt’s “The Kiss.”

Too many servers conflate good with frequently ordered, but at James recently a diner’s request for guidance induced a waitress to recite nearly the whole menu—“seasonal-American . . . with ‘old-world European influences,’ ” as the Web site has it. She was right, beginning with a crab-cake starter that’s capped, in her words, with “super-fresh and really yummy micro-greens.” (The co-owners, Bryan Calvert, who cooks, and his wife, Deborah Williamson, who mingles, live above the restaurant, where they tend a six-hundred-square-foot herb garden.) Seared scallops float in a watercress purée studded with sweet roasted corn, while flaxen prawns are served with a sunchoke purée and garlic confit. An excellent fillet of brook trout is first sautéed, then covered with hazelnuts and chives, folded in half, tied with a string of budding chive, and balanced with a side of fennel and oranges—evidence of James’s vast but not vulgar aspirations. A tender loin of lamb, encrusted with pine nuts and rosemary, and served with a buttery three-bean stew, struck just the right notes of heavy and light. The desserts, though, especially the warm ricotta beignets, win out. On a recent evening, the finest compliment, aside from the empty plates and the vows to return, came from a couple who live just down the block. Thinking of their postprandial chores, one of the two leaned in to say, “We’ll never let our dog go pee on their planters.” (Open Tuesdays through Sundays for dinner. Entrées $14-$29.)

And here's a review of the joint by the NY Times:

605 Carlton Avenue
(St. Marks Avenue)
Brooklyn, NY
Phone (718) 942-4255
American, European
On the ground floor of an apartment building on a residential block of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, James is a small, sweet restaurant that exemplifies how pleasing and quietly sophisticated the food at such neighborhood refuges has become. It's also a Mom-and-Pop restaurant for the Alice Waters era, owned and managed a married couple, Bryan Calvert and Deborah Williamson, who live smack above it and pluck herbs from a rooftop garden next door. Mr. Calvert worked at Bouley and Union Pacific, and that experience serves him well across a succinct New American menu. He doesn't nail every dish, but the salads, the roasted chicken and the roasted loin of lamb are first-rate. -- Frank Bruni
-The New York Times

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