NYCReview

Even in a city where skepticism makes you chic, everyone could use a shortlist of things they trust in earnest. New York City tap water seems like an obvious candidate. So does Cheryl, the woman who lives on Avenue B and feeds your chunky cat while you’re out of town. Fradei, a tasting-menu spot in Fort Greene, should join your lineup. This restaurant never discloses what they’ll be serving on any given night, which makes their five-course prix fixe feel like a series of surprisingly-fun surprise parties. Embrace the unknown for once. We assure you that you’re in good hands.

Fradei originally opened in 2019 with a nine-dish a la carte menu before making several rounds of pivots during the pandemic, doing everything from selling sandwiches to operating as a wine shop. As of March of 2021, they now serve a five-course menu for $90 per person, as well as a long list of (mostly) French and Italian wine that rotates to complement whatever buttery marvels you’ll end up swallowing here. Courses change every three weeks based on seasonality, and the team only posts the dishes on Instagram after they’re finished with that particular menu’s run.

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Unless you cheat and hire a spy to eat at Fradei a week before your reservation (please don’t do this), you won’t know what you’re in store for—but expect a progression involving a chip-and-dip snack, followed by two glamorous-but-restrained vegetable dishes, a pasta, some meat or fish, and a dessert. If we were short on time, we might call the food French (the wine-pouring people with arm tattoos who run the restaurant certainly are). A more apt description, though, would have to include phrases like “peasant food but make it fashion,” or “root vegetables have more fun.”

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Alright, we lied. The most delightful surprise of Fradei isn’t the fact that you won’t know what’s on the menu. It’s how this restaurant draws your attention to vegetables even when meat is lurking nearby. One night in the fall, we had a soup of apples and razor clams in a broth made with leftover scraps of squash. On another occasion, we ate beets cut in half-inch-thick slices like a sirloin. They were fork tender with a crispy char on the outside, sitting in a pool of deep red, beefy bordelaise sauce. At a lot of restaurants, vegetables end up feeling like accessories. That’s not the case at Fradei—and the dishes that lean into this vegetable-first attitude are the ones you’ll end up remembering the longest.

Even if you like control, we still think you should submit to Fradei. There’s something effortlessly sexy about not needing to know what’s going on, especially when you’re sitting in a room that looks like a pirate ship usurped by hot French people with nothing but wine and All-Clad pans in tow. Dollar bills are taped up by the bar, cartoon drawings of wine bottles rim the ceiling, and, oddly, in one corner of the restaurant, you’ll notice a section of white wall stained with a barrage of lipstick kisses. (Fradei technically does offer seating outside, but we think you’d be forgoing the restaurant’s kinetic energy out there.)

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Secure a date or a bring friend who jumps out of their seat at the thought of trying the city’s great New American tasting menus (Oxalis and Contra act as rough points of comparison), and do your best to book a reservation during the second half of the two-seating dinner service. That way, you can hang out until another glass of amaro sounds like a good idea, even if your future self would disagree. Tell that same future self to save the skepticism for the F train on weekends or for that person who hasn’t texted you back in a month and a half. It’ll be of no use to you while you’re happily eating an unexpected meal of spiralized celeriac in a truffle-herby oil made from its own leaves.

Food Rundown

Tasting Menu

For those scrolling to the bottom of the review before reading the heart of it (we know who you are), this is a good time to inform you that Fradei is a tasting menu restaurant where the food changes every three weeks. We’ll give you an example: a meal in late fall started with a snack of homemade potato chips reminiscent of savory Cinnamon Toast Crunch, served alongside a smooth squash emulsion for dipping. Next up, we ate a warm mound of spiralized celeriac in a crème fraîche (think zoodles, but about a thousand times more flavorful and elegant) sitting on top of a bright green oil made with the leftover celery leaves and topped off with shaved black truffles. The second vegetable star to arrive at the party was a bone-marrow-decorated beet bordelaise, followed by cauliflower cream-filled agnolotti in a rich ’nduja butter with pickled banana peppers popping with acid and heat. For the main meat event, there was a quarter wedge of charred Caraflex cabbage and crispy roast pheasant served in a sauce made with pheasant-juice and sun-dried tomato. Finally, the most out-of-left-field dish of the night: dessert. Ours was a smooth, jewel-colored Japanese sweet potato ice cream topped with exactly four thyme sprigs and fluffy clusters of marshmallow.

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Wine

The only alcohol option other than wine at Fradei is an Italian beer called Forst. So, basically, you’re having wine. In the spirit of not making any decisions, give the server a price range and a color, and drink something you might enjoy so much that you decide to order a couple bottles online the next day. The last time we were at Fradei, we were recommended a juicy French red at the lowest end of our price request. There are also house options by the glass or for around $55 per bottle.

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