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Posts from the ‘Italian’ Category

Newborn: Sac’s Place

sacs-facade

So, Jackson Heights finally got good pizza. Not a Motorino or even a Milktooth. No brussels sprouts or negronis–are you insane? Believe me, I’m good with grandma slices, garlic knots, and meatball heroes, the sort of classics you take for granted in many New York neighborhoods. This is Sac’s, a new branch of a popular Astoria Italian restaurant that recently opened a block from my apartment, which is to say in the Latino section of Jackson Heights sitting among two of the best Uruguayan bakeries. The world needs empanadas and calzones, though. 

sacs-counter

It feels more like a takeout counter operation, though there are eight tables configured in twos and fours, and more substantial entree specials, like the lasagna (cheese or meat) and wild mushroom ravioli announced out front on one of my visits.

sacs-slices

So far, I’ve tried a few slices, a pepperoni roll that was nearly hefty as a calzone, and a whole pie. The “mama,” simple with full moons of fresh mozzarella and basil atop what read as a zippy sauce, chunky with San Marzano tomatoes, and tart. (I say “read as” because lately tomatoes, even roasted grape tomatoes which barely qualify as tomatoes, taste acidic to me and I’m not sure if that’s accurate or something I’ve done to my palate with new prescription drugs.) and a white slice, creamier and milder, obviously, which I liked well enough to order as a whole pie with sweet Italian sausage (ground up and blobby not firm and sliced, a surprise) another time.

Unsurprisingly, the Jackson Heights doesn’t have a coal oven that lends that trademark char to the thin crust. Here, it’s a little floppier. No complaints. Ok, just one–with Sac’s now on the scene, I can no longer justify ordering Hawaiian pizzas in the neighborhood. It would be a shame.

Sac’s Place * 86-14 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Pizza, Pizza, Sushi, Himalayan and Not

pizzeria sirenetta arugula & prosciutto pizza

Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.

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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Seattle Side Trip

Almost always if someone outside the West Coast hears you’re from Portland, they assume you know everything about Seattle even though with 175 miles separating the two cites, that’s practically like conflating New York City with Baltimore. (Also, no one in Jackson Heights has ever heard of Oregon or Portland.) Prior to January, I’d only been to Seattle once in 1993 on an art school field trip where I used fudged work study money to buy a pair of John Fluevog flatforms, got my photo taken by tourists, and sipped not even second-wave coffee at some place called Puss-Puss Cafe before being driven back south by a charter bus.

Contemporary Seattle is…I’m not sure exactly. Definitely more mature than Portland, a little bland (seriously sad Tinder), a lot wet and outdoorsy, kind of like if a city could be the municipal embodiment of damp polar fleece. That said, there is also a lot of new, and a lot of it seems to have sprung-up close to where I was staying in Capitol Hill.

Capitol Hill Cider This is where I kicked off my final night of eating and drinking (my first night of three was a bust after barfing into an air sickness bag while waiting on a porch for an Airbnb host) a little before night truly began. At this cider-focused tavern with a Northwest bent, just a glass of Apple Outlaw’s Ginger Bite kind of because the gluten-free menu wasn’t my thing (nothing against bbq or tempura broccoli) but mostly because I had many more pit stops ahead of me.

bar melusine

Bar Melusine I eat a lot of happy hour oysters, often without paying much mind to origin. At Bar Melusine I was excited about two things: trying more than just the familiar kumamotos, and getting an eyeful of that mint green, marble, and brass scheme that’s like visual Xanax. With six oysters on offer, the kumamoto being the only non-Washington bivalve (and raising the question as to why you never encounter Oregon oysters), ordering a dozen was the perfect opportunity to try them all, with an Aquavit-based cocktail like the Fleet Wanderer. Supposedly ranked mildest to strongest (I did not agree): Kumamoto, Treasure Cove, Eld Inlet, Passage, Blue Pool, Hama Hama.

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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Frites, Fried Artichokes, General Tso Fried Chicken

antoniono's 6

Antonioni’s Gato was nuts, so too Le Philopsophe. I just wanted to sit at a bar and have some drinks and snacks. Antonioni’s, a short walk away, was suggested–and don’t kill me, but I had no idea what it was because if I ever see anything written about a new restaurant with an Italian-ish name, I skim past it because it’s just not my thing. We all have our biases. I might compare Antonioni’s kitschy mid-century Italian-American theme to Parm, but I’ve never eaten there and am only interested in the pastel, layered ice cream cake.

The restaurant turned out to be fun, bustling yet just chill enough to grab seats at the bar with no maneuvering or hovering. The much-Instagrammed orange jungle animal wallpaper set the right tone. You can start with a stiff brown drink like the Ace High (Laird’s Applejack Brandy, Cocchi di Torino, Luxardo Maraschino, Fernet Branca, Gran Classico, Scrappy’s orange bitters) and end with an intense amaro made from rhubarb that tastes not unpleasingly like burnt tires. The fried artichokes were all hearts, no leaves, making them more like the steak fries of the fried artichoke world. Just a warning. Some people love steak fries. Eggplant rolatini is something I would never order myself, but the eggplant had a smoky quality and crispy edges that kept it from being all about the tomato sauce and melted cheese. The pizza crust could be described as biscuit-y, which I don’t mind. Most people–a mix of older locals, industry types, and families with young children–were eating pasta anyway.

Chez Jef is the cutesy French pop-up that’s acting as a placeholder before the now-dead Bowery Diner turns into something else, presumably. The core menu is short. Just get the steak frites, even if you feel pressure to branch out and try something pseudo-healthy like the salmon with sunchokes so there aren’t two plates of the same thing on the table. The salmon’s boring; the steak isn’t. Plus, you get a metal gravy boat of béarnaise. And a whole jar of cornichons and a pair of tongs to play with if you order charcuterie. The oblong radishes and slices of crusty bread served with a thick slab of butter the size of a Kraft single topped with crunchy sea salt is also a nice freebie.

applebee's black & blue burgerApplebee’s Astoria may have created a new arts district, but there’s still a Pizzeria Uno and Applebee’s in its midst. Order some $1 happy hour oysters and a Mary Pickford (silver rum, maraschino, grenadine, pineapple juice) at the Astor Room, watch a non-blockbuster movie like Grand Budapest Hotel (now gone) at the Kaufman Astoria Cinemas because it will be nearly empty, and then cancel it all out with a Bourbon Black & Bleu burger and a Sam Adams at Applebee’s. The bar is the only thing bustling after 9pm in the immediate vicinity.

Martha Definitely go for the general tso fried chicken (this is also done at Sweet Chick on a waffle, by the way). I was also happy to see that in addition the now requisite brussels sprouts and fish sauce dish, there was a spin on Thai eggplant, spicy, and tossed with basil and bits of hard-boiled eggs that’s almost too much for two. I was less happy about my order being lost and seeing skillet after skillet being diverted elsewhere, but they were super transparent about the mix-up, apologetic and comped a round of drinks, which was all thoughtful. I’m not so paranoid or self-absorbed to think these sorts of snafus are personal (think how many times I order my food, get it, eat it, no biggie) but it seems to be a not uncommon Brooklyn restaurant thing.  Even more confusing was that I subtweeted this issue and Karloff, where I’ve never eaten in my life, responded.

 

Buca di Beppo

If you thought Bubba Gump was a misguided one-off,
you would be wrong. Times Square is as dynamic and ever-changing as any
neighborhood. Take Buca di Beppo, for instance. Rather than  hoping for cronut-like hype, the new-to-NYC Italian
chain went old-school with coupons (and cross-promotion with Lisa Rinna?).

Buca duo

You might be accosted by a gentleman in a polo with
a photo-heavy menu, handing out discounts on the corner of 45th and Broadway,
or find a checkerboard of deals on your office fridge like I did. The paper
grid sat lonely for days untouched. I took three to get the ball rolling, and
then downloaded a coupon for a free appetizer from their website just to be
extra prepared.

Meatball

Um, and this meatball grad greeted me in my email
after signing up.

Buca elevator

Buca di Beppo shares space with Planet Hollywood, just
one floor above. Since the restaurant is a rabbit warren of distinct,
separate dining rooms, it's hard to say how busy it was during my lunch, though
it felt empty and cavernous. I only noticed two other tables with people
sitting at them because they were next to me, a youngish couple and a group of
men in suits, both parties British. Why Buca di Beppo? Who knows?

Buca coupons

Family style is their thing, and that's what they
push, but my deals were for lunch and that's a la carte. I was trying to
optimize my coupon usage–which is better? A free stuffed chicken breast, 20%
off, $10 off $30 (I wasn't even going to entertain the $5 off two lunch entree
cards sitting on the table).

Bucca di beppo stuffed chicken

Obviously, free. That gratis prosciutto and cheese-stuffed
chicken breast allowed me to drink two glasses of house merlot.  It was not horrible either,
despite my aversion to Italian-American food. I was worried that I'd have to
eat a bowl of saucy pasta, but no one will force you to pick noodles on the
side.

Buca di beppo wine

Thank you,
office coupon, for enabling my day drinking.

Bucca di beppo pasta

Of course, there is plenty of pasta if that's what makes you happy.

Who's up for sneaking out of the office with me again for an extra-long midtown lunch?

Buca di Beppo * 1540 Broadway, New York, NY

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Chinchulines, Cue, Cavatelli

Boca juniors parrillada

Boca Juniors You'll hear about La Fusta or El Gauchito, if you hear about Queens Argentine restaurants at all. Boca Juniors, not so much, possibly because it's a theme restaurant. What kind of self-respecting food-loving Buenos Aires resident would eat at a Jets-themed steakhouse catering to American expats? No matter, it's fun, and the food is respectable enough. Have a few empanadas, order some grilled meat (if you look out of place–I did–you may get cautioned against the parrillada for two, pictured in its sweetbread, intestine and blood sausage-filled glory, but it takes little to convince that you know what you're getting into) or pasta. I have no idea staff still breaks into song and does a dance routine with blue and yellow umbrellas; on this early mid-week evening, the room was half full with most tables for two seated side-by-side at four-seaters, positioned to watch the live Boca Juniors game on the two wall-mounted flatscreens. The elderly couple in Boca jerseys splitting a bottle of wine were my heroes. Or maybe it's the Argentine house wine pours, always to the rim, that are my heroes. Inexpensive Malbec and a jumble of organ meat are made for each other.

Fatty cue green chili lamb bao

Fatty 'Cue I only went once in its former guise and
that was three years ago so I'm hazy, but Fatty 'Cue 2.0 doesn't seem radically
different to me. The layout's more or less the same. There are cocktails, smoked
meats, funky dips, pig's ears and heads. Maybe the baos are new? There could be
more vegetables than previously. The one notable difference is that the pork
ribs, still great and salty-sweet from fish sauce and sugar, were $14 for three
last time and $12 now (the online menu says $11, but I don't think that's
correct). So, maybe lower prices? The green chili lamb bao was done more Indian
than Southeast Asian, with a tamarind sauce, yogurt and cucumber. Winsome. The
whole steamed fish, the only non-meaty large plate, seems an odd choice in
retrospect. The components were straightforward, turmeric and lime rubbed onto
the fish itself, with chile sauce and ketchup manis for dipping. No complaints,
but I would stick with the meat.

Aita trio

Aita I think I said I would never go here, not out
of malice, but because I eat Italian food so rarely. After 10pm on a weeknight,
though, the dining choices in an immediate two-block radius after a few
Manhattans at Mayflower, are slim. The fried rabbit in the style of fried
chicken with a lot more sage, was fun, if not bony. Something possessed me to
order wheat pasta, cavatelli, with a lamb ragu and favas, not completely out of
whack with this still-cool-at-night spring (that's not a complaint, and no,
it's still not summer, Memorial Day over or not). If you want to continue with
the rye-drinking, the cocktail list isn't bad.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: 11211

Le Comptoir It seems like just yesterday I moved to
Clinton Hill, but that was five months ago. Now it’s winter and I’m living in
Williamsburg where there is easily ten times the number of restaurants and I may as well be a grandma. That’s
one reason why Le Comptoir seemed like an odd choice to be name-checked in the
new rental’s glowing ad copy.
I wouldn’t consider the bistro notable enough to
convince anyone to move nearby and only went because I wasn’t in the mood for a
long Saturday night wait after a day of moving and it was empty (while Walter
Foods next door was at capacity) at first, then filled with drinkers up front.
I think they live on their all-you-can-drink weekend brunch. Service was
predictably wonky and my Sazerac, which I only ordered because it was listed,
was served iced like the Manhattans in Southeast Asia. My steak tartare with
salad was fine, if not generously portioned for $11. A fallback, not a first
choice.

Briskettown breakfast tacos

BrisketTown I’ve still not experienced the primetime
bbq (nor the just introduced lunch sandwiches) but during the day they serve
the brisket–and you should get the brisket–in Austin-style breakfast tacos.
The floppy flour tortillas make the creation feel more like an open-faced
burrito. Despite tales of lines for dinner and running out before closing time,
there was not another soul inside for the morning shift. Though the pulled pork
and brisket look similar (I did not try the vegetable, the third offering) each
had its own unique garnish: a slightly bitter cabbage for the pork and pickled
red onions for the smoked beef. The latter, blended with scrambled eggs and
chile sauce had the edge. I have never been to Texas so I can’t speak to any
authenticity–bacon or chorizo are the favored meats there–but the breakfast
tacos have been given thumbs up by more than one Austin transplant.

Forcella Part of the 2011 montanara pizza craze that
apparently has died down. And once again, we were the only diners on a
weeknight (not a good trend). I like the concept–it’s not as if they’re going
full-Scottish and battering and deep-frying the whole pizza–but it failed to
deliver. The whole center was sog, defeating the whole purpose of the fry. I
would’ve rather had a langos.

Maision premiere happy hour

 Maison Premiere A wild exception to the
everyplace is empty experience. Arriving at 4:05pm for the 4pm-7pm $1 oyster
happy hour was no prevention against waiting until 6pm until an iced tray of oysters
appeared in front of me. Whether or not this was the result of a
three-day-weekend Monday (I hope to god) or a normal Monday, I can’t say. And
the seating procedure was arcane, to boot. The initial 20-minute quote turned
out to be just to enter the restaurant, which was already at capacity, and not
for any guarantee of bar seating where you can order food (seats with ledges in
the bar are drinks-only). Said prime bar seating is a free for all and
predatory. If you wait another hour or so one of the real sit-down tables will
eventually become available. Logistics aside, a buck an oyster is a good deal,
and 18 varieties means you can get an education (I knew I liked Malpeques but
the super briny new-to-me Beausoleil and Totten Island oysters were the best)
even if it’s unlikely that I would return anytime soon (or could unless I snuck
off work early). The non-raw bar food is ambitious. Loup de mer crudo was
precious in size, though brightly flavored with grapefruit and marcona almonds
for a little richness. And I was not expecting a cloche and tableside saucing
with the langoustine and sweetbreads, especially not as the large group of
young men at the next table were doing their best impression of Dave Chapelle channeling
Rick James by shrieking “I’m rich bitch.”


Omg tacoOMG Taco
Technically 11206 (and no, this isn’t Bushwick) there is not probably any reason to eat
here other than being very drunk and/or needing food on the same block as the
Montrose L station.With that said, the bistec taco (pictured) could’ve been worse.

Taco Chulo There is not a strong argument to eat
here either, though I have done so many times. It is useful for large groups
with varying levels of interest in food–and there’s no harm in a margarita and
queso-drenched  nachos every now and
then.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Shrimp Heads, Downtown Ramen, Bitters-Free Manhattans

Allswell trio

Allswell. Being open till 11pm is not late night dining, not
in NYC anyway, and it's always bothered me, especially on weeknights when maybe
you want to go out to eat at 10:45pm and the pickings are beyond slim.  Allswell serves real food until 3am, not
whole menu, but it's something.  These
hyper-crispy head-on shrimp in a Meyer lemon sauce and duck rillettes were
pre-midnight, normal menu items. The burger, fat and meaty (with cheddar and
bacon, both add-ons) and perfectly pink inside, can be had any time. The fries
were an abomination, though, if you hate wet and oily thick-cut fries like I
do. Steak fries are the bane of my existence. That's the worst part about pub
burgers, which this appears to be emulating.  Bring a friend who likes fat, mushy fries (they
exist!) and let them go wild.

Ganso trio

Ganso. With ramen I often give the same disclaimer I use
with barbecue: I'm neither a fanatic or expert. Obviously, I like both and have
opinions, but I can't speak to what a broth's correct flavor should be or the
specific pH of mineral water needed to produce the ultimate noodles. Frankly, I
just like that there is a ramen shop in that odd pocket of downtown Brooklyn
near the IHOP. The short rib buns weren't anything remarkable, and a little
mesclun-y (I did not try the short rib ramen pictured, but love the idea that
each broth receives a different noodle, subtle and thoughtful) but the spicy
miso ramen with thinly sliced pork belly, Chinese broccoli and a soft-boiled,
soy-infused egg was winsome, if not a little gut-busting (I always find that
Asian noodle soups of this size put me into a coma). I will be even more happy
about Ganso being there when it becomes cold enough to better appreciate the
ramen's warming and filling properties.

Mayflower. A miniscule moderately new bar affiliated with neighboring
Aita, a corner Italian restaurant I may never visit because I rarely eat
Italian food (unless you count pizza). Some might call it a speakeasy (signage
was recently added). Jonathan Ames was there on a date, at least I think so, I
don't like staring at people. The bartenders (who can get overwhelmed when at
capacity) are weird about bitters: on one visit none were used in a Manhattan,
on the other I was asked whether or not I wanted them used. Would it
be too hyperbolic to say that a Manhattan without bitters is not a Manhattan? Still like the place.

The
Wallace.
Along with Prospect, it's one of two new upscale restaurants to open
on Fulton Street. I figured I should try one of them, and the main reason The
Wallace won out because it was slightly less expensive (entrees in the low $20s
vs. high $20s–now that I live in new shiny condo, no complaints, I'm going
broke buying things like shades for ten-foot-high windows). There's nothing
radical going on, food-wise or with the decor (one might get the impression
this was another tin ceilings, Edison bulb joint, but the interior is oddly
generic like it could've been a suburban Italian restaurant in a previous
life–ok, it was Caribbean) just solid, well-seasoned New American dishes with French
foundations like crispy pork belly on a bed of lentils with braised greens, the
latter an unexpected slight Southern twist, and tilefish with a potato gratin and
beurre blanc tinged with saffron. Manhattans are on the cocktail list and bitters are used, no question.

Il Porto. When I was assigned to review this Italian/pizza
place for nymag.com
after it opened a few years ago, I thought it was in the
middle of nowhere. I guess it still is, though now that I live down the street and
that the scary-seeming (not just to me) Navy Yard Cocktail Lounge has been
gutted and looks like any generic storefront for sale, the block seems less
isolated and off-putting. With that said, it's not a destination unless you're
already in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill. The wood-fired pizza is pretty good
(arugula, prosciutto and parmesan is popular) though the floury, barely charred
and nearly flaky crust that I happen to like probably isn't the pinnacle of
Neapolitan pie-making.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Double Dandelion Greens & Falafel Three Ways

Levant duo

Levant I never ever used to order delivery, maybe more due to social anxiety (I hate ordering by phone–there's always a misunderstanding) than an abhorrence for convenience. But Seamless has won me over lately because it cuts down on all that messy interpersonal interacting. I was a little bummed when Palmyra went belly up, but turns out it was ok because they were replaced with another Middle Eastern restaurant with better food. Or at least more variety–there's not just falafel but Jordanian (chickpea and fava), Egyptian (fava) or Syrian (chickpea) falafel. I had the standard all-chickpea fritter in my five for $13 mezze, along with labneh shateh (spicy), muhammara, mukhalal (pickled vegetables with a whole preserved lemon tossed in) and mousa'a, a steaming hot stewy eggplant dish not pictured. The pizzas, a.k.a. manakeesh are only $6. The lahmeh bi ajin was topped with ground beef, onions, pine nuts, and was a little salty. I'm curious about the one with blue cheese, dates, honey and walnuts.

Paprika selection

Paprika Despite its existence on St. Marks for 12 years, I don't recall ever noticing this Italian restaurant. There are just too many Italian restaurants in NYC, I'm afraid. That's why owner and chef, Egidio Donagrandi, has gone back to his roots and revamped much of the menu to reflect the cuisine of Valtellina, a Northern Italian region bordering Switzerland. It's also why I was attending a preview dinner. Gone is most of the red sauce (there are still meatballs–lamb, by the way) and a different type of hearty food has taken its place. Buckwheat plays a role the tagliatelle and the lasagna with leeks and fonduta (pictured), Northern Italian cheeses like new-to-me, Bitto, enhance the polenta, also given a little heft with buckwheat, pickled vegetables frequently show up as with the oyster mushrooms atop the bresaola. Also shown here is black kale with pickled onion and almonds, a dandelion salad with pickled radishes and creamy crescenza cheese, and beef crudo with beets and chicory. (Obviously, there are substantial mains, too, but the light waned and I didn't have my real camera on hand to adequately capture them.) Maybe my end-of-2011 prediction that Alpine cuisine would be a break out, will prove true. What happened with Harold Dieterle's The Marrow, anyway?

Frankies 457 Now that Pok Pok exists, waiting an hour for a table at Frankies seems like nothing. Technically, I'd already eaten enough snacks earlier to constitute a meal so post 10pm dinner was fine. But to counteract the already-eaten food, I went healthy and ordered a dandelion greens salad with octopus instead of pasta (well, I also shared a charcuterie plate). It was a bit too healthy, like giant bowl of tart, nicely dressed weeds accented by charred octopus tendrils. I would recommend sharing this unless you're the type who can regularly eat a whole forest of kale in one sitting.

Brick house cocktail listBrick House Tavern + Tap I've mentioned this suburban breastaurant (which seems to be decreasingly breastaurant-y) before. I only want to mention that a short cocktail list with a Manhattan twist and a drink using Firefly sweet tea vodka seems to be in at these corporate-type establishments (Is there a company or consultant who designs lists for restaurants? I feel like I should know.) Brick House has a Woodford Reserve Peach Manhattan (which I ordered) and a Carolina Spiked Tea (which I would never order because I hate sweet tea). Though I can't find any cocktail lists on their websites, both Republic Gastropub and Bricktown Brewery (no relation to Brick House) Brewery in Oklahoma City also had prominently featured a sweet tea cocktail and a fruity Manhattan.

Monte’s

I had only been to Monte’s Venetian Room, the so-called oldest Italian restaurant in Brooklyn that sat dormant for the past few years and was just reincarnated, once in its original state, probably around 2003. It was the last time I ever saw my stalker, an unstable former coworker (librarian, naturally) who originally seemed harmless because I thought he was gay and too old (late 30s, ha). I mean, it’s not like I get a lot of stalkers so I had to get the attention where I could find it even though it needed to be nipped in the bud. After two mid-afternoon gin and tonics at Monte’s bar, that was that was that.

Monte's facade

On Friday night, half past nine, the bar was the liveliest section of the new room, Venetian mural removed, wood-burning oven installed. The two-for-one drinks advertised on the chalkboard outside probably had something to do with it. We had our pick of seats and choose a red booth mimicking the original the leather banquettes in the same shade.

Monte's bresaola salad

The arugula salad with lots of parmesan and thin slices of breasola was good and; the focaccia and crusty Italian bread was a nice accompaniment.

Monte's bread basket

So, too was the diavola pizza, layered with sopressata, briny olives bound by a generous application of mozzarella atop a crust more yeasty than crackly. How did I become too distracted to take a photo? That never happens, which could be the sign that I’m finally weaning myself from rampant picture-taking. It really wasn’t because I was concentrating on the food, even though the pizza was at least as good as anything else in the neighborhood.

That was the issue I got stuck on. Why was no one there on a Friday night? It’s not the cuisine. Even though I think the area should put a moratorium on Italian food, I know I’m not the norm. South Brooklyn is teeming with similar reasonably priced antipasti, pasta, secondi restaurants and they’re busy. I don’t mean destinations like Frankies 457 or really Brucie, Rucola, Bocca Lupo or that ilk, but comparable spots like Savoia, the enoteca next to Marco Polo, Fragole. Even Red Rose, which always looks a little down on its luck gruffly turned me away a few months ago. Not a single free seat on a Saturday.

That leaves location as the problem. Gowanus, as much as I love it, isn’t really Carroll Gardens or Park Slope. There’s not a lot of foot traffic, hence no potential spillover from neighboring restaurants. I’ve always thought much of Smith Street’s popularity was due to the volume of restaurants, not necessarily the food quality. It looks bustling; people want to go. And if one place is full, you pick another Thai/Sushi/Italian/Small Plates option.

(Part of the reason I forgot to take photos was because when I saw James’ orecchiette I brought up Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones &  Butter because I had just reached the part where she was making that pasta in Italy and I then started going off on a tangent about how had described Smith Street as “that minor-league stretch of Brooklyn that always disappoints,” which I wouldn’t disagree with. Then she lost me with the following overblown inaccuracy: “I would rather starve and kill my children—Medea-like—than eat the truffle oil omelette with chorizo ‘foam’ and piquillo peppers at Soleil or Blue Bird or whatever those restaurants are called…” Twee names maybe, but Spanish flourishes, foam and truffle oil are totally foreign concepts in the vicinity.)

Luna Rossa, at the butt-end of Court is in the same situation as Monte’s. They both have similar menus and aren’t grabbing attention on a non-prime block. I think people just go to Luna Rossa because they have a back garden. Perhaps, Monte’s could work the not-yet-realized patio beer garden mentioned in the press. I’m not sure what the solution is, but you have to stand out.

Monte's bar

One of the owners happened to be picking the brains of a young couple at the bar that had replaced the earlier, raucous crowd of locals. Are Open Table, Seamless Web, foursquare and email marketing blasts worth it? How to get on “foodie blogs?” Ostensibly, I work in digital marketing (and even wrote a report called Digital Dining: Chain Restaurants Add Social Media, Mobile to the Menu) but frankly I don’t feel comfortable giving advice because it would only be something obvious and generic like create a quality product and people will come to you. That’s as obnoxious as book deal bloggers talking about cream rising, passion, doing what you love and the money will follow, blah, blah.

I might try to capitalize on Monte’s history rather than coming in as just another Italian-American restaurant in an area thick with them. Keep the pizza, add updated classics, Rat Pack era cocktails or even modern cocktails with Italian flourishes–Fernet Branca is in, right? It could be pulled off by someone with a sharp aesthetic, but it would be tricky to avoid crossing over into kitsch or alienating whoever this target audience is supposed to be. Astor Room hasn’t been wildly successful with this approach, though, so I will zip it now.

Monte’s * 451 Carroll St., Brooklyn, NY