Sunday, May 13, 2007

Navigating Tepid Reviews on Citysearch

Two posts ago I urged all those who take pleasure in lengthy dining to head over to Brooklyn. I listed a few restaurants and feel that it is only fare that I follow up with a bit more detail. Because Aliseo Osteria del Borgo was the most recently visited I will start there.

A week ago I had the pleasure of taking a dear friend of mine, Kara, out for a wonderful meal to celebrate her birthday. If there is anyone that I know that deserves to be taken out to a wonderful meal it's Kara. She is an interesting dining partner having a reciprocal, non-pretentious love of food and wine, and more importantly, she is also one of my biggest heroes. You see, Kara is a special education teacher in the NYC public school system and has been courageously wrestling her way through her first year as a fellow. What that means is, with limited training, she has been thrown into the deep end of the pool and, though sometimes I’m sure she does not realize it, she has been doing a hell of a job negotiating the waters.

I chose Aliseo Osteria del Borgo because I had enjoyed a wonderful meal their back in January and found the compact dining room cozy and inviting, and the service thoughtful and unassuming. Imagine my surprise when I found mixed reviews for the restaurant on Citysearch. I don’t tend to go by reviews, especially when my own experience is contradictory, but I did start to wonder, was my incredible meal simply a figment of my imagination?

Kara and I decided to meet at the restaurant, “Just in case I’m early, what name is the reservation under?” Kara asked me conscientiously. It being 8:30pm on a Saturday night it was a reasonable question for her to ask, but I had done the foolish thing in figuring it would not be a problem.

When we arrived there was of course a wait for a table, but we were offered two seats at the bar, which we gratefully accepted. The bar seemed more like a prep area than an actual bar and Kara and I sat watching a spirited man, the owner Albano, slice prescuitto, cheese, and salami for some wonderful looking cheese and meat plates. After a few moments he turned his attention to the two of us giving us two glasses of wine and a plate of olives, cheese and salami. “I hope you like white” he said with a thick accent. “I trust you,” I replied. He turned to face Kara, “It is a silly woman who trusts a man she does not know,” he declared with a hearty giggle. My instincts were spot on however; the wine had a almost smokey bouquet, and the flavor, reminiscent of lychee fruit and pine nuts, stood amicably beside the pungent and almost melting flesh of the oil and dill soaked Gyeta Olives.

By the time we had finished our glasses of wine the table was ready and we waved goodbye to our new and trustworthy friend . At the table we ordered a bottle of the Montepucciano and perused the menu. There were so many things I wanted to try. I remember the cheese plate was a notable item from my last meal, and there was a superb rustically cut pasta dish served with thinly sliced zucchini, rosemary, and pine nuts that I have never been able to forget. But, I also wanted to try something new.

For appetizers Kara and I skipped the cheese plate (we could always have it for dessert later) and split the Insalada Tricolori and a Parsnip Flan served with a Basil and Mint Sauce and Presuitto.

The salad was served with olive oil and aged balsamic that was almost sticky and sweet like honey.
The flan was light in texture yet retained the earthy flavor of the parsnip. The Basil mint sauce added just the right amount of lift and the Presuitto, which I did not have to share with Kara because she is a vegetarian, added just the right amount of brine to the otherwise subtle dish.
We lingered over the appetizers for a while, sipping our wine and catching up, and when we finished the appetizers we were allowed some recovery time to regain our appetites.
For an entree Kara decided on the Rustically cut pasta, or rather maltagliati, ‘Badly cut,’ as my friends at Chowhound have informed me.
I decided on the linguine with smoked fish, freckled with rosemary and white beans.
Both entrees were good, but I have to say the 'badly' cut pasta dish stole my heart. Here is Kara the school teacher posing crazy-like with her food.
After we were finished with our food, we polished off the bottle of wine then took a look at the dessert menu. At this point of the meal I am always extra thankful to be dining with Kara. Where many dinner partners would shy away from dessert, Kara would never dream of it. For me, not having dessert after an elaborate meal is like skipping the last chapter of an engaging book. Our closing chapter was a grandiose one consisting of a Chocolate Tart and Gorgonzola and Walnuts drizzled with Honey. At the waitress’ suggestion, we had two glasses of the Muscato d’Asti, a lightly sparkling version of Muscat made from the Moscato Bianco grape.

The extremely rich Chocolate Tart was served inside a peasant like crust that sat atop a river of orange zested sauce. Though it was extremely rich, I was happy to find that neither the sauce nor the chocolate was overly sweet.
The Gorgonzola and Honey was a savory and sweet dream and, because the Muscato was the perfect match for both of these lavish desserts, we ordered another round.

One more glass of Montepucciano later, we asked for the bill and checked the time. It was 1am! Neither of us could believe it; we had been eating for four and a half hours. With a pleasant buzz accompanied by two full bellies, we thanked the staff and stumbled out into the gentle spring breeze. Having been received kindly, fed well, and not in the least bit rushed all night, I decided to do myself a favor and for now on to ignore the reviews on Citysearch.


Vivian said...

I read this entry through three times trying to imagine the delight it must have been. I love long lazy dinners like that, when your lost in the moment of good food and service.

Kara said...

I don't think you can even imagine how many times I've read this. I'm not sure why I haven't posted a comment yet - perhaps out of shyness (I know, crazy to think I can sometimes be shy).
Regardless, that was one of those perfect nights - perfect food, and certainly perfect company.
It's what life is about, no?