In the past five years we've seen Gowanus slowly grow into somewhat of a culinary destination, very few restaurants though, have set up shop west of Third Avenue, opting to keep their distance from the eyesore that is the Gowanus Canal. There is good reason though, to venture toward the water and find Lavender Lake, a bar and restaurant that would be inconspicuous on most city blocks but is distinct among the warehouses and art studios.
The bar's most successful cocktails feature bold and assertive flavors. The Street King's ($11) mix of lager and sriracha, spiked with La Pitaya tequila and lightly sweetened by ginger syrup is reminiscent of a michelada, but much stronger. More subtle cocktails, like the River's Edge ($11) fare just as well, delivering a balance of herbal New Amsterdam gin, floral lavender, and tart grapefruit bitters.
By reputation, Lavender Lake is known as a bar more than a restaurant, but their kitchen is putting out thoughtfully prepared dishes that pair well with a few stiff drinks. Small and tender Anchovy Fillets ($7) marinated in olive oil over avocado and toasted sourdough make for a salty two-bite snack.
Deep fried Brussels Sprouts ($6) are thoroughly crisped and impressively unburdened by oil; an accompanying lemon mayo brightens with a tangy acidic bite. A selection of Pickled Vegetables($5) offer some surprising flavors; most memorable among them is the cauliflower that's strongly scented of cinnamon.
Their tomato Gazpacho ($10) is not quite silky smooth, but it benefits from its slight chunkiness. The rough blend lends to spoonfuls of distinct flavors: cucumber, red pepper, and olive-oil-toasted bread. I only regret that I did not get to try the soup with the advertised avocado ice cream, which was unavailable on a recent visit.
With the arrival of the cool autumn weather, it feels appropriate to indulge in something as hearty and comforting as the incredibly moist Pan-Seared Chicken ($18), which brandishes a crisp, dark skin and lays over a marsala and cremini mushroom glace.
Speaking of seasons, the Summer Gnocchi ($16) is among the few misfires on the menu. The potato dumplings are overwhelmed by the olive oil they are fried in. The addition of sauteed kale and a thick red pepper romesco only call more attention to the oil's presence.
There's certainly no shortage of spacious backyards, exciting cocktails, and seasonal menus in Gowanus and the neighboring Carroll Gardens, but Lavender Lake exists at the intersection of all three. To top it off, it's a bit friendlier on your wallet and rarely requires a wait for a table—at least not yet.