Abistro on DeKalb. The name itself is an argument, a dare. Not "a bistro," but "abistro," a one-word assertion of authority, a place that might upend commonly held notions of bistro-itude. This Fort Greene restaurant specializes in Franco-African cuisine, but its dishes, like the name, tease you with contradictions.
To begin, a cold ginger juice ($5). The wedge of lime looks mundane enough, but the smack and burn of the root's liquid is a singular sensation. Shards of grated ginger furthered the spicy tang. We could almost see the cartoon ka-pows! and boings! in the air around us, squiggles of smoke rising up from our scalps.
Next up, Senegalese fried chicken ($22), a chicken breast that had been peppered, then broiled. Too busy eating, we didn't miss the crackle of skin found on more traditional takes. The Senegalese salsa—cabbage and pineapple—added acid, as did the Dijonnaise sauce, mouth-puckering in a good way. The braised collard greens beneath turned a cabbage hater into a convert. "My mouth feels alive," one of us yelped.
The "fried" we expected in the Senegalese fried chicken arrived in the curry Vietnamese catfish ($17). (This dish traces its origins to a part of the French empire far removed from Africa.) What came out was a light and flaky rectangle, the curry flavors literally baked into, rather than slathered on, a firm but not brittle crust. It worked, arrogantly, unexpectedly, as when Alanis channels Fergie to sing about her humps or Jonathan Coulton takes on "Baby Got Back."
Sides warrant discussion. Along with the catfish came a great glop of mashed grits flecked with green onions. The grits had been plumped and textured. And the fried chicken had stiff competition from its pineapple scented jasmine rice cake in the "most delectable" contest being waged on that plate. "Pineapple scented" lends this pretty little puck a pretentiousness it doesn't deserve, for it was a great addition to a great entree, a dessertlike cake in which the rice took on a gelatinous, almost apple-like crispness. We were especially glad for this dollop of sweetness, as Abistro was out of its famed spicy bread pudding ($10).
Loyalists to the original location, a closet on Carlton Avenue, might scoff at this younger sibling's minimalist polish, even as they appreciate the latter's full bar. The pleasantly sparse dining room has a handful of accents: a blue-green wall, a statue of a breastfeeding woman, a high-top table made of polished driftwood. Instead, its atmosphere derives from its diners. Laughter ricochets off the hard surfaces. A man in a bright yellow t-shirt greets most of the tables. And, suddenly, Abistro becomes a bistro. With its unique take on familiar food and ambiance, Abistro on DeKalb is best for: a vivacious date.
250 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11205 (map) 347-384-2976