When a restaurant puts the word “cool” in the name, it’s a statement. Cool World, a neighborhood bistro on the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border, is unquestionably cool, but in a highly specific, trying-very-hard-while-projecting-effortless kind of way. The food is a bit uneven, but that almost seems beside the point. You’re not here to eat a meal that’s going to blow your mind. You’re here because you want to feel, well, cool.
Cool World’s interior feels like it was designed by a wealthy alt-rock dad who was given no direction. Massive paintings of ice-blue glaciers line the walls, and the painstakingly curated soundtrack wanders from Sophie B. Hawkins to Pixies and everywhere in between. Both the bar and the bathroom are constructed from what appears to be unfinished plywood, as though said dad who was really psyched to DIY the project got stoned halfway through and decided it was a vibe. Your server will probably be wearing some kind of T-shirt that begs you to ask about it. On one visit, it was a Nirvana-style band tee emblazoned with the word “Negroni.” They assured us we wouldn’t be able to find it online, but we did.
The owners drew inspiration from the bistros of ‘90s New York, and that carries through in the menu. You’ll find things like shrimp cocktail, a wedge salad with ranch dressing (black garlic ranch, but still), both moules and steak with frites. There’s also a confit lamb shoulder that’s pressed into the shape of a brick and plated with a cascade of scallion sabayon and preciously-arranged roasted vegetables. It looks like it came out of a 1994 CIA textbook on plating techniques.
Some things on the menu, like the aforementioned lamb shoulder, the frites, the duck croquettes, are delicious. Others, like a too-greasy seasonal vegetable tempura and an unwieldy and oddly bland fried chicken sando, don’t land. There are two worthwhile variations on an espresso martini, but the desserts are skippable.
But maybe you don’t care whether every dish that comes out of the kitchen is a slam dunk. Maybe you just want to wear your vintage Members Only jacket while you sit in front of an amateur painting of a glacier eating $34 steak frites and listening to Brian Eno. There’s a time and place for that. Perhaps that time is now, and perhaps that place is Cool World.
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Pretzeled Parker House Rolls
This is one of the best things that will hit your table. The rolls are warm and fluffy on the inside, with a salty, slightly chewy exterior, and served with whipped butter. It’s like a soigné version of Auntie Anne’s.
Our perfect meal here would consist entirely of these duck croquettes and a pile of fries. They’re fried perfectly and stuffed with an incredibly rich and savory combination of confit duck, comté, and dijonaise. You might want to get two orders if you’re here with more than two people.
Seasonal Vegetable Tempura.
Every time we ordered this, it came out greasy and soggy. The black lime that supposedly makes an appearance in this dish was undetectable.
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail
Kind of boring but also kind of great, this is our favorite item from the raw bar section of the menu. The michelada cocktail sauce doesn’t really evoke a michelada, but it does taste good.
There are all kinds of buzzy phrases in the menu description of this dish, like “black garlic” and “savory granola,” but really it’s just a wedge salad with a bit too much ranch dressing. It’s good if you enjoy slightly overdressed iceberg-forward salads, which honestly a lot of people do.
Intentionally outdated plating aside, this is our favorite thing on the menu. The kitchen here is really, really good at confiting things. We wish they’d do more of it. This might be the most tender, least-gamey lamb dish in the city. Our only complaint is that the portion size is on the smaller side.
The fries here are thin, crispy, and served with a delightful saffron aioli. If you’re not getting the lamb, steak or moules frites should be your choice for an entree. They’re both solid options, if not particularly memorable. If you want to skip the protein altogether, you can also just get a mountainous side order of frites and call it a day.
In general, the cocktails here are pretty good. We particularly enjoyed the oddly nostalgia-inducing frozen rum and Coke, which tasted like someone had put fancy rum in a movie theater Coke slushie.