Change comes fast to restaurants, especially in New York. New spots open all the time and close just as quickly. Chefs leave and menus decline, or places become so popular you can’t even get a table any more. In our neighborhood of Clinton Hill/Fort Greene, Brooklyn some of our favorite places have closed just when we were starting to frequent them regularly. When I took my younger brother to Pratt four years ago to check out the neighborhood and see the campus we went out to dinner at June, on Dekalb Ave. We ate street side and talked about how it would be our spot while he was at school and the food was excellent. Two years later it was closed and reopened as The General Greene. After discovering L’Epicere, (a French market by day, family style amazing bring your own wine by night cafe) we had planned every major celebration there for the next five years. It closed that fall never to reopen. We waited almost a year before finally trying LuLu’s on Dekalb. After loving it and taking everyone we knew there…yup, it closed, (something else will replace it in the next few months). But I digress.
I guess I am thinking about change and the inevitable passage of time. Things you think will always be often last only a brief moment. The spot you went to every year your whole life suddenly no longer exists. Ok, maybe I am getting overly dramatic…I just turned 30 so give me a break. That brings us to this week’s review. It was my 30th birthday and Jess and I wanted to go out locally to celebrate just the two of us. We were headed to Chez Oskar, our old standby, when we detoured and decided to try something new. We vacillated between the menu at Ici and a new spot, Romans. Romans looked warm and inviting full of people and lively music while Ici was essentially empty. We followed the crowd. (I should note that we have always wanted to eat at Ici and it has been highly recommended…it will probably close.)
Romans (same group as Marlow & Sons, Marlowe & Daughters and Diner) opened up on Dekalb maybe six months ago. It replaced our favorite Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood, Bonita. (See the theme here?) We mourned the loss of Bonita because of their wonderful margaritas, fabulous guacamole, fish tacos and enchiladas. Life goes on, of course, and when it comes to restaurants life goes on quickly with no remorse. Romans has been packed every night since it opened, we had to give it a shot. Romans boasts a unique blend of traditional northern Italian cuisine with local produce and seasonal menus. The meal was exceptional, I just hope its still there when we go back with friends.
The wait staff was very friendly and helpful. They explained that the menu items were quite small and they suggested we indulge ourselves in the traditional three courses of entrée, pasta dish and meat dish. We started with two entrées: grilled asparagus with olive oil, shaved Parmesan cheese and topped with a fried egg, and Crostini with nettles, pesto ricotta cheese, and pickled shallots. The grilled asparagus was the absolute winner; tasty, perfectly cooked and the fried egg was such a surprisingly wonderful addition to the dish. The Crostini was excellent in conception, but the toast was clearly burned and we ended up with an ash flavor and a very hard piece of bread. It was unfortunate considering the pairings on top. The pesto ricotta cheese was so subtle, it would have been a velvety hint of pesto, but it was drowned out by the flavor of burned bread. The pickled shallots were amazing, sweet and tangy.
Our second course for Jess was lamb agnoletti (sort of like little ravioli dumplings) in homemade brotto (broth) with braised scallions. I had a lasagna with a white béchamel sauce, prosciutto and spinach. The lasagna was the winner here; creamy ricotta and spinach with sharp prosciutto and lasagna pasta was pure decadence. Jess’s agnoletti was a little too al dente for my taste but the lamb was so rich and flavorful. The brotto was a deliciously subtle hint of lamb jus and braised scallions added an almost Asian influence to the flavor.
On our waiter’s recommendation we had the special fish, which was, a whole Porgy locally caught off Long Island (this was a real treat as I knew Jess would never order this on her own but since it was my birthday, she conceded). The fish was so delicate and cooked to perfection. The fish was prepared with nothing more than the flavor of the grill and some lemon and herbs. We ate it to the bones like Heathcliff and picked at the blackened head of the thing until there was little left on the plate but an eye and the skull. I have had whole fish in lots of places including Northern Italy, and this ranked as one of the best I have ever eaten.
Maybe it was because we waited a little too long for some of the courses (someone definitely got our fish first and we waited another ten minutes for ours), or because it was my birthday but the staff came out with a complimentary mixed salad and also topped off our wine after we had finished the glasses we had paid for. We ended the evening with an olive oil cake with fresh strawberries and cream. I can’t really describe this dessert other than to say it’s worth the visit JUST for this. It was so good I don’t think we spoke or took a breath while eating it. Imagine the best strawberry shortcake meets a unique olive oil flavored white cake that is slightly dense, just sweet and crumbly? Very hard to describe, so very good.
I will critique Romans for having exceptionally loud music that did not fit the décor. I may sound like an old (30) man but we were half screaming at each other when we were talking. With low lights and candles with an Italian café feel, the blasting hits were out of place. The wait between courses was a bit long but the staff made up for it with freebies and excellent service. Jess would disagree but I also thought the wine list had few affordable bottles and the by the glass selections were very limited. In the end the price was not bad for the quality and no, after three courses with dessert we were not stuffed at all. The portions are just right and nothing is heavy or over sauced.
I hope Romans is here to stay, at least until my next birthday.