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Posts from the ‘Italian’ Category


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


Write about a restaurant within one month of opening and it’s too soon, full of kinks, unfair. Wait more than a year and it’s irrelevant. All the initial wows will either be forgotten or discovered to be not quite as amazing as originally thought. Who knows whether the food has actually gone downhill or if everyone has simply lost interest and moved onto newer thrills.

(And then there are the true jaded cynics. I’ve joked about finally going to San Sebastian now that Scandinavia is the culinary hotness, but it’s still a big deal for me. Last night I was reading a message board where a poster basically posited that all of the Michelin-starry Basque restaurants are now crap, empty during the week and subsist on drooling camera-wielding late-to-the-game food bloggers and that yes, those who think they’re tastemakers are being shepherded to Denmark and environs. Even a total naysayer, dream-crusher like myself felt bummed, after that. I may as well stick to Dallas BBQ.)

Early last year the chatter was all “crab and uni spaghetti,” “octopus and bone marrow.” This year, everyone is taken by nuovo red sauce (no matter how many times I hear raves about Torrisi and Rubirosa, I remain thick-headed and unconvinced) so obviously it was time to try Marea, my idea of a birthday dinner treat for a boyfriend. La Grenouille almost won out for untrendy as possible pick, but that will have to wait until another occasion.

My concern about choosing a wine (Italian styles aren’t my strength) was allayed when a bottle of champagne was sent to our table by my company’s COO, who happened to be dining nearby the same evening. Fortuitous, though not unlike running into your teacher at the grocery store when you're a kid.

Marea crudo trio

Choosing one crudo was impossible so I upped the prix fixe ante $6 for a selection of three.  Left to right are razor clams with fennel and peperoncino, geoduck draped with mini rings of hearts of palm and also spiced up with a touch of chiles and Spanish mackerel—my favorite because the slices were substantial enough to really experience the fish’s texture—hit with tangerine, almonds and tarragon.

Marea fusilli red wine braised octopus, bone marrow

The tangled ropes of fusilli changed my usual indifference to pasta. Chewy in the best substantial way and similar to the curled octopus legs, they hid nuggets of bone marrow that added unctuousness to the already concentrated tomato sauce. Toasted breadcrumbs mixed with garlic and parsley lent crunch. The portion was just right with the other courses, though I would’ve been happy with an Olive Garden-sized serving and a square of focaccia.

Marea cuttlefish, braised escarole, taggia olives, livornese sauce, wild oregano

Maybe I was influenced by what I’d read, but I came in thinking the secondi di pesce would be lackluster and true enough, I wasn’t jumping to order any of my choices. Neither fish nor scallops were what I wanted and James was ordering the seafood soup ($8 supplement). Ok, why not the cuttlefish? How would they handle the potentially tough little bodies?

When I asked for the seppia, our server remarked, “You know that’s squid?” Er, generally I read the menu before ordering an item…so yeah. I wasn’t questioned on the geoduck, which would seem like the more unfamiliar sea dweller.

Two plump chargrilled creatures, resembling cartoon ghosts (Japanese, not American) rested atop escarole and a brothy livornese sauce of crushed tomatoes, petite olives and more prominent oregano than basil. A blast of summer in March. I almost wanted to eat a few bites, freak out and then ask my server why I’d been brought cuttlefish.

Marea nocciola pralinato

Even though rationally, I knew the green gelee sitting inside of the nocciola pralinato, a firm ring of chocolate mousse, was going to be minty, I kept waiting to taste bell pepper on my tongue. Though I can’t remember where, I’m certain I have experienced a green pepper dessert even though the greeness wasn't overt. Oh, at Sergi Arola Gastro.

Marea mignardises

Mignardises. I don’t even remember which ones I ate—it must’ve been that dessert glass of manzanilla.

Marea * 240 Central Park S., New York, NY


Do you care what I ate for Christmas? No, I didn’t think so. (Minimizing the number of photo-centric this-is-what-I-ate posts is a goal for 2011) But I’m bored and house-bound; cut me some slack.

Normally, I cook over the holidays even if it’s only for a small number of people. This year I just wasn’t feeling it, next year I need to get out of the city.

What prix fixes were to be had? Many seemed perfectly nice, but dull and like hotel dining (not these hotel restaurants, of course). Maialino was on my radar, especially once I learned they were serving egg nog (why so scarce?) but they were fully booked. Barbuto didn’t seem like a bad second choice. The $65 family-style meal turned out to provide variety (I thought you’d get to pick from each course, but you got everything) and generous portions. Rustic and hearty makes sense on Christmas.

Barbuto appetizers

Antipasti included toasted bread with sheep’s milk ricotta and pannetone with chicken liver pate. The sweet slices combined with the rich spread was perfect. I also like using pannetone to make mustardy ham and swiss sandwiches that evoke cubanos.

Barbuto salads

After the salads of chickpea and Maine shrimp and beets and burrata (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten the soft oozy cheese twice in one month—then again, I rarely eat Italian food) I was already getting dangerously full.

Barbuto pasta

I preferred the linguine with bay scallops, chiles and Meyer lemon over the black-truffled risotto, if only because I like strong flavors and more texture. I feel the same way about rice pudding and especially pudding puddings.

Barbuto porchetta, chicken, sides

I know Jonathan Waxman is known for his roast chicken, and this crispy version with salsa verde was great. How do you compete with porchetta, though? Roast pork and polenta will always win. The only way the tender meat could’ve been any better would be if pieces of crackly skin were incluBarbutodessertded. Mashed pumpkin, cauliflower with anchovies and a potato gratin were on the side.

Ok, I just said that pudding is boring, but serve it with whipped cream and biscotti and call it a budino and I’ll shut up.

Barbuto * 755 Washington St., New York, NY


It was pure coincidence that I was asked to write about food cooked with blood the week after I ate pig’s blood pappardelle in San Francisco. I’ve not found anything in NYC that really approaches that level of creativity; most preparations here are traditional, whether French or Filipino.

Incanto pig's blood papparadelle with foie gras & trotters

The chewy, crimson pappardelle strewn with trotter meat, hunks of foie gras and homemade raisins that were closer to grapes is hard to describe without sounding obscene. The few times I’ve brought it up, I’ve had to temper my words with, “No, it’s really good.” I’m not sure if it’s the blood or the multi-levels of decadence that’s off-putting to the uninitiated. This smaller portion we shared as a second course—many dishes are available in two sizes—was beyond rich, a glorious appetite-squelcher.

Incanto pork belly with watermelon & tomatoes

Really. We ended up taking most of the following course, pork belly with heirloom tomatoes and yellow and red watermelon to go (yes, I’m normally melon-averse but I discovered that the pork tempers the fruit’s cloying nature when I a tried a funkier take on this combo at Fatty Crab). It wasn’t half-bad room temperature for breakfast.

Incanto lamb heart

Our starter, while also meaty, was the lightest of the bunch. Just a little spicy lamb’s heart and shallots.

Incanto * 1550 Church St., San Francisco, CA


The first time I visited 'inoteca, Frances McDormand was sitting across from me. The last time I dined at 'inoteca, it was wine and crostini with librarians. This weekend I was accompanying Hagan Blount of 93 Plates on his mission to eat three meals a day for a month with food bloggers.

I think he was surprised that I wasn’t Asian. (I was surprised that I agreed to be on video.) There's no use questioning why Asian ladies dominate at photographing and writing about what they eat;  it's a given like how there will never be a Staten Island food blog (ok, there is one).

Hagan insisted he saw Glenn Beck pass by, Mike Bloomberg out the window and Dash from The Incredibles sitting at the head of the large wooden table next to us. Ok, the guy nearby did have the in-motion blonde hairstyle down pat. Maybe if you drink enough Aglianico del Taburno dubious celebrities will appear.

Inoteca brussel sprouts, pomegranate, fiore sardo & walnuts .CR2

Shaved Brussels sprouts, the vegetable of the moment, with walnuts, a funky crumbled fiore sardo and pomegranate seeds started things right. This sweet and salty salad was one of the highlights along with the octopus below.

Inoteca truffled egg toast with bottarga

The scent of truffle oil is impossible to miss when the fancified Italian Popeye sprinkled with bottarga is placed in front you. Oozing yolk and warm fontina melded into a thick slab of chewy bread would be fitting brunch snack. But as soon as the square turns room temperature, all the components stiffen up. It's not for leisurely nibbling—just tear into the thing.

Inoteca polpi, fingerling potatoes, escarole, olives & meyer lemons

The shapely octopus leg–from the curled charred tip to the meaty end fat as a bratwurst–wasn't just a conversation piece, it was also the hit of the night. The Meyer lemon and olives lent a Greek flavor while the escarole stayed in Italy. Cooking cephalopods with corks to ensure a tender final product always seemed like an old wives' tale to me, but we were told that was the exact method used by the chef.

Inoteca soft polenta with roasted mushrooms, poached egg & parmigiano

More of those runny yolks, this time adorning polenta along with hen of the woods mushrooms.

Inoteca cheese

One goat cheese, a sheep's milk and one blend. I preferred the soft runny goat variety that I think was Brunet. It was even better spread on warm toasted flat bread.

Inoteca affogato

Cheese and dessert is really a bit much. Consequently the budino (not pictured—I’m fairly certain this was the affogato, though I don’t recall anyone ordering it) was neglected. And maybe our senses were dulled at this point because the alleged pumpkin flavor was nearly undetectable. Just stick with the cheese unless you can’t stand ending a meal on a savory note.

'inoteca * 98 Rivington St., New York, NY

O’Hare Macaroni Grill

Macaroni grill pizza

According to Fortune, airport restaurants have been benefiting from longer waits and delayed flights. Bored passengers have been looking to time-killing activities like eating.

I know this first hand because just last Sunday I found myself at Macaroni Grill, a chain I’ve never frequented, inside O’Hare. Our airport van got us there way early and our flight was pushed back nearly an hour. The food court was packed solid and that wasn’t going to cut it anyway. I demanded a drink and er, atmosphere.


I loved the faux alfresco concourse view; if you have enough house chianti and squint you might imagine you’re glimpsing ruins of The Appian Way (which I just knew would have to be the name of a chain restaurant).

Behold the Sicilian: pepperoni, sausage, fontina and mozzarella. It wasn’t half-bad for an airport food diversion.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill * O’Hare Airport, Chicago, IL


No more Convivio or Alto. (3/4/2011)

One-day's notice won't have you dining at Marea or Scarpetta earlier than 10pm while Convivio will grant you 1,000 Open Table points during all hours not just at geriatric 6:45pm, the exact time I willingly paid a visit to the Tudor City restaurant, glowing warmly from afar on a snowy, otherwise lifeless block. The only other time I've been that far east on 42nd Street was to meet with a library recruiter (they exist) in the lobby of her coop. It’s that kind of neighborhood.

Beyond salumi, sharp cheese, crostini maybe with chicken liver or fava puree and little dishes of marinated vegetables eaten with inexpensive red wine, I never initiate an Italian meal. Something about the holidays and drop in temperature, though, demanded not just pasta but hearty Southern Italian, the same cuisine I avoid like landmines near my apartment.

The $62 prix fixe (two sfizi or one antipasti, pasta, meat or fish and dessert) is really a good deal and a substantial amount of food (which didn't hit me until I stood up and had to think twice about eggnog at The Campbell Apartment. It turned out that don’t serve it anyway so my system was spared the creamy beverage…temporarily. A glass of eggnog did end up in my hand at Waterfront Ale House later) and the wine list was also friendly to those with little interest in pricy mature reds. I chose a bottle of Occhipinti SP68, a Sicilian Nero D’Avola/Frappato blend ($55).

Convivio polipo; grilled octopus, chickpea panissa, olives, red peppers.CR2
polipo/grilled octopus, chickpea panissa, olives, red peppers

Both the chickpea cake and octopus legs were light; the cephalopod with just enough chew and the panissa especially flaky. I could see this being done with polenta, but that would bog the whole thing down.

Convivio rigatoni, marsala braised tripe, cannellini beans, spinach, pecorino grand cru
rigatoni/marsala braised tripe, cannellini beans, spinach, pecorino grand cru

Rarely a pasta-craver, rigatoni would never be an obvious choice to me because the fat tubes are a lot of noodle. It’s always about the accompaniments, though, and I’m glad that I didn’t shy away from what appeared to be the humblest of the ten available pastas offered. Gelatinous rectangles of honeycomb tripe—a cut I associate strictly with menudo or dim sum—definitely held up to the rigatoni. There was a lot of crunch from miniature cubes of celery and carrot, which worked against the softness of the cannellini beans.

Convivio scottadito di agnello; grilled lamb chops, salsa verde, escarole
scottadito di agnello/grilled lamb chops, salsa verde, escarole, beans

It’s hard not to love a medium-rare lamb chop ringed with a few bites of charred fat. The vinegary salsa verde cut a bit of the richness. Ack, but those cannellinis again. (Nothing against the beans—I just used them tonight along with canned tomatoes and frozen fish in a lowerbrow version of Eric Ripert's roasted cod with white beans, tomato and truffle oil. It was the best I could come up with since I haven't gone grocery shopping since before Christmas.) I mean, it did say beans in the description, I was just imagining a different legume from the rigatoni. And while I am loathe to admit food aversions (it makes you look narrow minded) cooked tomatoes, the main reason why I'm prejudiced against Italian-American food, ever excite me. I feel the same about Provençal dishes like ratatouille. I wouldn’t even see the movie with the same name. Ok, I’m a fussbudget.

So, the lamb was near perfect and the side and sauce were dull according to my biases. If you love tomato sauce and don’t order a starter with cannellinis, you’ll probably enjoy this greatly.

Convivio tartaletta di caramelle; valhrona chocolate ganache, salted caramel, vanilla gelato
tartaletta di caramelle/valhrona chocolate ganache, salted caramel, vanilla gelato

I was swayed by the salt and caramel, but this firm little tart was also very much about the thick chocolate layer. The gelato added an overall creaminess but the vanilla flavor was a little quiet. Would caramel gelato be overkill?

Chef Julian Medina was seated with a group in a nearby curved banquette and was the only person who seemed to notice when my camera came out (never with flash and always lightning fast—no attempts at professional quality are made). A mildly consternated expression crossed his face insinuating, "Eh, bloggers." I am the enemy.

Convivio * 45 Tudor City Pl., New York, NY

Casa Mario Lombardo

1/2 Oaxaca was freeing. I could indulge in Hawaiian pizza, the love that dare not speak its name in New York City, with no shame. Ham and pineapple is revered, ok, enjoyed by Mexicans in a way that is not allowed in the Northeast but likely still holds traction in many parts of the United States (growing up a half pepperoni/half Hawaiian was a standard family-pleasing order).

Frozen hawaiana pizza

My theory is only bolstered by evidence found in the freezer case at Soriana.

Domino's hawaiian pizza in oaxaca

Domino’s are not foreign to Oaxacans. In fact, I was kind of excited to see their delivery ad showcasing Hawaiian pizza propped up on the television in the Hotel Aitana, my second of three lodgings. This one was geared toward middle class Mexican travelers, a little pricey and no concessions made to English-speakers.

Hotel aitana bathroom swan

When you get the swan towel treatment you know you’ve made it.

Casa maria lombardo oven

That didn’t mean I was going to order Domino’s, though. Casa Maria Lombardo, an Italian restaurant featuring dishes cooked in the wood-burning oven seemed like a more serious option. When I stopped in after Spanish class everyone was eating pizza and I was initially surprised at the lack of tourists, considering every relatively nice place–wines served, quirky décor like cheese grater lamps, stand-up metal purse hooks–I’d been to up until this point were inhabited by Americans.

Casa maria lombardo hawaiian pizza

So, Hawaiian it was. Size chico. The sweet-salty combination neither Italian, Mexican nor Hawaiian was transformed even further by the two condiments presented to all diners: salsa and ketchup. Clearly, there is an audience for the ketchup though the only people I’ve ever known to add the sweet tomato sauce to their pizza were Filipinos. Salsa made perfect sense, however, I always drizzle a little Sriracha on my slices. This was just a chunkier, fresher rendition. And the style at Casa Maria Lombardo was very sparing with the tomato sauce foundation. A little extra spicy tomato-based moisture didn’t hurt.

Casa maria lombardo pizza bottom

The crust had even scattered leopard spots charred on the bottom  but this is not the thin bubbly Neapolitan style appreciated in NYC. This was fork and knife pizza with enough structure to allow easy cutting. I don’t only enjoy pineapple on my pizza, I also refuse to fold, always going for the knife and fork even when plastic. Yes, I liked Mexican pizza.

Unflattering out of focus photo taken by a stranger Solo dining, I was generally invisible to all but bauble hawkers (who oddly never made an appearance in this restaurant) so I was surprised that a gentleman, one of two businessmen drinking lots of wine by the glass (they really should’ve just ordered a bottle) at the table next to me offered to take my photo. I think he felt bad seeing me by myself snapping shots of my food. Then I felt weird and explained that I actually like taking photos of my food and didn’t need a photo of myself then relented at the last minute because it might be the only one I’d have from this vacation. Unfortunately, it’s a blurry unflattering photo. He didn’t know how to use the camera and the flash was off and I have horrible blobby posture and was sunburnt. Even so, if I am to only have one photographic reminder of my Mexican vacation it should really involve Hawaiian pizza.

Casa Maria Lombardo * Abasolo 314, Oaxaca, Mexico


Motorino was one of the two new wave pizzerias that made The Village Voice blog’s (not sure why I can’t just say Fork in the Road but it doesn’t sound right) recent top ten list. I can see why. I’d swap it for Lucali, mere blocks from my apartment, if such feats were possible. With its overly eager patrons huddled outside, that Henry Street star has completely discouraged me from paying a visit for quite some time. Now, I assume all well-regarded pizza places will be equally prohibitive. Not so, Motorino. On a Wednesday evening there were plenty of free tables, no problems, no nonsense.

Motorino bacon wrapped figs

If you ever read lame diet advice for fun (I’m still not cool with epicurious recommending only eating three bites of your food to lose weight. Yes, duh, but really?) you’ll be familiar with all the menu descriptors that signal you should stay away from an item—obvious stuff like crispy, smothered, breaded, etc. I’m certain that bacon-wrapped would make such a list but everyone knows that phrase usually signals deliciousness. This creamy, salty and gooey appetizer was a promising start. Hmm, and realistically these figs enrobed in smoked porky strips dotted with crumbly goat cheese fit the three-bite restriction if divvied up amongst three diners like I had at my table. We followed up the tiny decadence with a simple arugula salad.

Motorino margherita pizza

I do like that both purist and non-traditional pies are available because I lean more toward the latter. Of course, I can also appreciate the simplicity of a margherita, and we opted for the version with flor di latte rather than mozzarella di bufala. The proportions of ingredients seemed just right with nothing dominating. I guess the crust was a little puffy (I happened to be with a crust avoider and didn’t think about this until I saw the uneaten remnants sitting on his plate) and took up space that could’ve been devoted to more toppings. The pizza was overwhelming good, despite a bit of sog in the middle of the pie. The flimsiness didn’t even detract. And I certainly ate more than three bites.

Motorino soppressata piccante pizza

The soppressata piccante also used cow’s milk mozzarella, as well as spicy sausage, garlic and chile oil. The little charred rounds of soppressata added character you don’t get from pepperoni and the spiked oil added a layer of fresh hotness that complemented the sausage. When we asked for crushed pepper we didn’t only receive a small dish of flakes but also extra slivered red chiles in oil.

I would like to try the cured meats and cheeses so another visit is definitely in order. I left feeling happy (though that could’ve had something to do with the $5 glasses of pinot noir), happy enough to check out goth night at Legion up the street. I’m still coming to terms with 40-something men in full-on make up, teased hair and brooches spinning Siouxsie and the Banshees for 22-year-old guys in denim shortalls and espadrilles.

Motorino * 319 Graham Ave., Brooklyn, NY

Marco Polo Ristorante

It’s hard to believe that I’ve lived in Carroll Gardens for five years. That’s a mighty long time for a neighborhood you’re not in love with. One of the first places I noticed after settling in was Marco Polo. Brick-clad, with white stone accents and a sunroom on the side, the corner building seemed styled from an undecipherable era. They also touted valet parking, an unusual touch around these parts. The multi-story restaurant never seemed full yet appeared to be thriving. It scared me a bit, not so much for the mobby vibes emanating (lest you dub me a baseless stereotyper—there was truth in this presumption) but because rampant red saucing makes me want to sob and it would be hard to even justify the novelty factor with entrees in the $20s. I clearly wasn’t their target market.

For at least the past six months while attempting shoulder presses on the second floor of the gym directly across the street, I’ve been regaled with a banner strewn across their façade declaring a 25th anniversary special for 25 days. I don’t think it’s ever coming down. Maybe they’re like me where five years passes like nothing. Twenty-five days could easily turn into 365.

But I have been intrigued, I’ll admit. I’m also curious about the wine bar currently under construction two storefronts down, next to Marco Polo To Go, that still bears Joe’s Restaurant signage in the Marco Polo To Go space.  Not that Carroll Gardens is suffering from a lack of small plates.

I wasn’t doing anything remarkable on Easter, no plans to speak of until around 5pm when it was decided that something festive needed to be done for dinner. James suggested Chestnut. Wildly, Marco Polo popped out of my mouth. I didn’t need to say that twice since I’ve been putting the kibosh on his urge to try the place for practically half a decade. He was instantly on the phone making reservations against my better judgment (seriously, it wasn’t going to be packed and certainly not at 8pm on a Sunday). 

Marco polo mural

There were a few other tables finishing up their $34.95 prix fixes as we arrived. I went in cautiously, not expecting anything remarkable. And no, the food isn’t memorable but I would recommend going once just for the experience. Um, and for the murals (detail above). Isn’t supporting a local business supposed to be better than patronizing an Olive Garden (not that such a chain would stand a chance in South Brooklyn)?  

Marco polo antipasto

First course of warm antipasto was certainly a bready, saucy hodgepodge. There appeared to be shrimp, baked clams, stuffed mushrooms, eggplant rollatini and a fat triangle of mozzarella that looked like French toast. Ok, I do love fried cheese. 

Marco polo lamb

The lamb chops (at least I thought those were chops but it looks like ribs and who knows what else on that plate) were generously portioned and I was glad that the potatoes had a little color around the edges instead of simply being boiled. The meat might’ve been too fatty for some tastes, but I wasn’t put off. 

Marco polo cannoli

For dessert I chose a cannoli, a perfectly nice specimen. Despite rarely eating them, desserts based on sweetened ricotta never let me down. 

Marco polo interior

There are what feels like millions (maybe only really a handful) of Italian-American restaurants cut from a similar red-and-white checked tablecloth (ok, these were white) still thriving in the neighborhood. Maybe I’ll get around to trying a few of them eventually, too.

Marco Polo Ristorante * 345 Court St., Brooklyn, NY