A New Favorite in Boerum Hill

Rucola, a rustic Northern Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill, has only been open for about a year, but has quickly became one of my favorite restaurants. Our first visit came immediately after our trip to Piedmont and I was thrilled to see a menu with Piemontese touches so close to home.

Heirloom carrot salad

The menu isn’t huge, but it features a nicely edited selection of appetizers, a couple of homemade pastas, a few entrees, and sides. All make use of fresh seasonal ingredients: VERY Piemontese. I always go for the homemade rigatoni in a meat sauce that has a touch of nutmeg. The mini cast iron pan of baked polenta is not to be missed either. All of these dishes are paired with an impressive wine list featuring all of your favorite Piemontese wines.

Homemade rigatoni with meat sauce

Lastly, you can’t beat the atmosphere at this cozy joint. Quiet street? Check. Soft lighting? Check. Stylish rustic decor? Check. Cool crowd? Check. Rucola only takes reservations for parties of 5 or more and can get crowded, so there could be a wait. Grab a spot at the bar and have an Italian aperitif. It’s worth the wait.

Spuntino on Court Street

Frankies 457 on Court Street in Carroll Gardens is a destination restaurant. Granted, the restaurant is frequented by locals, but mostly it is a parade of town cars and yellow cabs that transport diners to this restaurant. Six years ago, we were some of those transported diners. We jumped out of a yellow cab to try a new Italian restaurant I had read about in a neighborhood I had never heard of. At that time, we had no intention of moving to Brooklyn (we were living in Manhattan and didn’t think there was a reason to live in another borough). Little did we know that this restaurant would change that. We fell in love. Not only did we fall in love with the restaurant, but we also fell in love with Carroll Gardens. Three months later, we were moving from Manhattan and haven’t left Carroll Gardens since.

The menu is Italian; not overly northern or southern, but a comfortable mix. The menu features small plates (or spuntino; an Italian word for snacks) that are meant to be shared. Some of our favorites are crostini (especially the ricotta crostini and the avocado crostini), a roasted vegetable salad, and an arugula salad.

Pastas are also well represented on the menu. My hands down favorite is their home-made cavatelli with Faiccos hot sausage & browned sage butter. My wife, a forever vegetarian, enjoys this pasta with roasted cauliflower in place of the sausage. They don’t advertise this substitution, but its a secret we’ve picked up from the friendly staff over these past six years.

Not only is the food consistently good, the atmosphere is the standard for the “New Brooklyn” restaurant. Think Edison lightbulbs hanging from a tin ceiling. Exposed brick walls surrounding a candle lit room. Food served to a soundtrack of ageless class rock, such as The Band and The Rolling Stones.

In the warmer months, the back yard turns into an al fresco dining space. With a glass of Italian white wine, this is one of our favorite places to be on a warm summer night.

Each time we eat at Frankies, I’m taken back to our fateful first dinner there. The southern end of Court Street was quiet at that time and Frankies was on the fringe of any excitement. Today, Frankies is in the middle of all of the excitement of Court Street. It seems like we weren’t the only people who were drawn to the neighborhood by this not to be missed restaurant.

Romance in Park Slope

Though not strictly Italian, Convivium Osteria is one of the most romantic restaurants in Brooklyn. We recently visited this Western Mediterranean restaurant in Park Slope and sought out a Northern Italian meal. We were not disappointed.

The restaurant is warm and cozy and overwhelmingly romantic. The mostly candle lit restaurant features two levels, each with different dining experiences. The street level is very rustic and reminds you of a quaint farm-house. Below, is a dimly lit wine cellar with long tables and walls that are lined with bottles of wine.

The menu features authentic dishes from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Braised short ribs over creamy polenta and spinach gnocchi in fonduta stood out as Northern Italian. These dishes, paired with a bottle of Barbera, transported us to Piemonte.

Overall, this restaurant should not be missed. The service was friendly and the atmosphere can’t be beat. The next time you want to impress a date or a visitor, take them to Convivium Osteria.

A Reason to Speak Italian

When my friend Sandro told me about the Winter Wine Dinner honoring the Piemontese wine maker Enzo Boglietti from La Morra, I knew we had to attend. Not only was I excited to try the wines, but the dinner was at Sandro’s friends restaurant, Locanda Vini e Olii, a Northern Italian Restaurant on Gates Avenue in Clinton Hill that I have been wanting to try for some time now.

The Locanda Vini e Olii was the perfect setting for an intimate wine dinner. The space, a former drug store, features tin ceilings, original woodwork, and pharmacy bottles. This is the type of restaurant that you add to your “must take visitors to” list. It is certainly now on ours. We hustled in from the cold, hung up our coats, and were escorted to our seats. Our neighbors at the table were introduced to us by Rocco, one of the owners of Locanda Vini e Olii. Seated to my right was the honoree of this dinner, Enzo Boglietti, and across the table was his lovely wife.

We exchanged pleasantries, me in horrible Italian, and the Bogliettis in much better English. The Bogliettis spoke some English, but not much. I, unfortunately, used up most of my Italian skills when we said hello. Here I was, seated next to a highly respected wine maker from my favorite wine region, and we could hardly communicate. I did learn that Enzo grows his grapes on 22 hectares which yields 100,000 bottles a year. He, of course, is very passionate about his wine. This was apparent without the need for any translation.

Thankfully, the food and wine kept us occupied and the breaks in conversation were not awkward. The menu and wine pairings were exactly what I hoped they would be. We started with Bagna Cauda and vegetables paired with Enzo’s 2009 Dolcetto d’Alba “Taglineri”. Next came a Piemontese beef tartare paired with a 2008 Barbera d’Alba, “Roscaleto.” Then came Swiss chard gnocchi with “fonduta” which was paired with a 2007 Barbera d’Alba, “Vigne dei Romani.” Finally came the course I’d been waiting for since seeing it on the menu, Piemontese beef cheeks braised in Barolo with cannellini beans in extra virgin olive oil. This was paired with, of course, Barolo. The wine was Enzo’s 2006 “Case Nere.” Delicious food and spectacular wine. Someone at our table said it best, when holding the 2007 Barbera to his nose. “This just smells like Piemonte!”

As we said goodbye to Enzo and his wife, I silently vowed that I wouldn’t let an opportunity like this slip away again. I must speak Italian. We promised to call on them when we visited Piemonte again. I told them I would speak better Italian then. They promised to speak better English.

Now the search begins for Enzo’s wines here in New York. This dinner is a memory I will always be happy to relive through a glass of Enzo’s wine.

The Bogliettis