Before you go to a restaurant, what do you want — or need — to know most? In our series, The Rundown, we’re sharing all the essentials about newly opened (as well as some of your favorite) restaurants.
Here, we’re looking at Place des Fêtes, the newest restaurant from the same team behind Oxalis in Crown Heights, Brooklyn — partner and co-founder Steve Wong, chef and partner Nico Russell, and beverage director Piper Kristensen, opening on March 31.
Even before the pandemic hit, and shortly after they received their first Michelin star, the three already had plans to open Place des Fêtes as a more casual restaurant, hoping eventually to open it in 2020. That wasn’t meant to be, but now, two years later, their dream of having a second restaurant has become a reality. Here’s everything you need to know about Brooklyn’s newest wine bar.
1. If “Place des Fêtes” sounds familiar to you, there’s a reason for that.
In July 2020, Russell, Wong, and Kristensen debuted a pop-up called Place des Fêtes out of the courtyard behind Oxalis, where they served a succinctly summer-inspired menu with lots of fresh vegetables, seafood, cheese, and wine. It was an intentional test run for what would eventually become Place des Fêtes, the Clinton Hill wine bar, nearly two years later.
“When we did the pop-up in the alley, it was a way for me to try to reconfigure our brain, and how we did things,” says Russell. “We ran the pop-up with half as many cooks [as we have at Oxalis] because we wanted to see what we could do with a smaller, more pared-down staff, and we planned the menu week by week. There was a lot less manipulation [of the food] in comparison to Oxalis.”
Not only was running the pop-up a good learning experience, but it also reminded Russell of Oxalis’ own beginnings, too. “Our bones are in pop-ups,” he says, recalling how he ran Oxalis as a pop-up six years ago, until finally opening a brick-and-mortar spot in 2019. “The pandemic made us better operators, and it strengthened our ties, even more so to this part of Brooklyn,” Russell says.
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2. The name is French, but the menu takes inspiration from Spain and Portugal …
A stay in Paris with friends in the Place des Fêtes neighborhood inspired Russell to name his second concept after it. “I thought it was a fun and playful name, like an event space, or a place that suggests this idea of being convivial, or about community, and being this casual space,” he says. “I know it’s a French name, but it’s really almost like a restaurant you might find in Lisbon, or in Spain, where the seafood is just so good.” You’ll often hear Russell and the team refer to the restaurant fondly as “PDF,” too.
Russell describes the food at Place des Fêtes as much more “casual” than what you might find at Oxalis. “The big thing for us is zero garnish — we’re letting the products really shine,” says Russell. Everything here is à la carte; there is no tasting menu.
3. … and from the sea.
Expect a lot of seafood on the menu here, in the form of lightly pickled clams, razor clams, and mussels, made with vinegars made in house, as well as some truly special anchovies, Don Bocarte, imported from Spain via Despaña (“the best in the world,” says Russell).
With all of the seafood at Place des Fêtes, minus the anchovies (“I know, tinned fish is having a moment,” says Russell), the team is leaning heavily into local seafood from the East Coast — but they also haven’t forgotten their West Coast roots (Russell is originally from the Bay Area in Northern California.)
To help Russell oversee the kitchen, they’ve brought in seafood specialist Jacob Harth, formerly the chef and co-owner of Erizo in Portland, Ore., to be the chef de cuisine. At Erizo, Harth was known for catching the fish he served daily at the acclaimed restaurant. He won’t be doing that here, but he is playing a pivotal role in helping Place des Fêtes source its local ingredients, especially when it comes to seafood, from East Coast suppliers like Maine’s True Fin Seafood.
“He’s asking [our suppliers] what they’re not providing, trying to find out what else they catch, and he’s creating these really good conversations with them,” Russell notes.
Russell is particularly proud of the whole crispy bone-in ray wing that they’ll be serving. “It’s something that is both in line with our ethos of serving something that is local (from Massachusetts) and a product of bycatch,” he explains. [Bycatch refers to when fishermen catch fish or marine species unintentionally, while fishing for a specific fish or species.] “The technique is just a variation of something we ran during the pandemic that chef Jacob and I have tweaked a bit to create something very special with such a beautiful local and sustainable product.”
4. The wine list will be extensive.
Kristensen keeps a tightly curated list of mostly French wines at Oxalis, but here at Place des Fêtes, he’s looking to wines produced in Spain and the Americas, from regions and countries like Ontario, Chile, and Peru. Here, there will be at least 12 wines by the glass to start.
“At PDF, I really want to offer people a lot more options, a lot more wines by the glass, and one-off bottles that are just fun,” says Kristensen. “It’s going to be a constantly changing menu so we can offer a different and new experience each time; it won’t be stagnant.”
5. The vibe they’re going for is decidedly easygoing and very Brooklyn.
When Russell and Wong saw that the space at 212 Greene Avenue was open following the closure of The Finch, they say they just knew it was the perfect space for Place des Fêtes: a newly renovated, 120-plus-year-old Brooklyn brownstone. “If you were to make a postcard about Brooklyn, I think it would look pretty close to this,” says Russell. He hopes diners will love coming to Place des Fêtes on Sunday or Saturday afternoons to enjoy some wine and small bites, especially.
Inside, they’ve kept mostly the same layout The Finch had, plus some additional bar seating. The walls are painted in warm terracotta hues. Banquettes are situated by the windows near the front, and there’s an open kitchen, too. In the back, there’s a large wooden communal table, and in total, the space will have about 65 seats, give or take.
6. You’ll see some familiar faces from Oxalis.
“We’re moving a couple of longtime employees [from Oxalis], and we’re just so excited; their enthusiasm is really going to make the spirit of the place alive right away,” Russell says. He hopes Place des Fêtes will be a gathering place for fellow restaurant industry workers, too.
“We want to be open on Mondays,” he says, “so we have this other chance to cook for our colleagues, because it’s such an important thing for us. We love our industry, we love the people in it, especially more so than ever, and they work so hard — we want them to come in and get some food and some drinks and relax a little because they work so hard.”
Place des Fêtes is open from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.