al di la
It’s not hard to see why locals start lining up on Fifth Avenue as soon as al di la’s doors unlock around 6 p.m. Chef Anna Klinger’s Northern Italian delights are habit-forming, like the consistently seductive malfatti, made from Swiss chard and fresh ricotta and swathed in a delicate sage-butter sauce; or the tender braised rabbit, a rustic treat accompanied by briny black olives and pillowy polenta; or the casunzia, rosy beet- and ricotta-filled ravioli. The no-reservations policy suits the relaxed atmosphere, but it means there is almost always a wait to grab a seat at one of the bare-wood country tables. If tapping toes isn’t to your liking, cool your jets at al di la’s lovely way station around the corner, al di lino, where you can nurse your hungry anticipation over one of their 25-by-the-glass wine selections. No reservations. Closed Tuesdays. 248 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope. 718/783-4565. $16-$24.
Push through the wooden door into Francesco Buffa’s tiny, tiled-floor dining room and you’ll experience a blast from the past: old-timers (and young ones practicing to be old-timers) drinking cups of espresso or Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, a sweet, chilly treat that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in New York. Buffa sticks to Sicilian basics like the pasta con sarde, an earthy muddle of pine nuts, fennel, raisins, and sardines, and linguine alle seppie, with squid ink, cuttlefish, and garlic. You can’t miss with the caponata, a savory mix of eggplant, celery, tomatoes, and olive oil slathered on homemade Italian bread, or eggplant parmesan, simple grilled slices of eggplant with olive oil served on the Ferdinando’s addictive bread. No reservations. No credit cards. Closed Sunday. 151 Union Street, Carroll Gardens. 718/855-1545. $6-$15.
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The River Cafe
Is it overrated? When you’ve been holding court on the waterfront as long as the River Cafe you’ve earned the right to gloat a little. It was, after all, the training ground for such culinary stars as Charlie Palmer and Rick Moonen, and even though the classic menu offers few surprises, indulging in decadent dishes like port-tinged foie gras and crispy duck breast with poached figs will make you swoon. Of course, the first thing people will tell you about this dockside spot is the view — a rapturous, front-row stunner of the Brooklyn Bridge and downtown Manhattan. The view is so breathtaking it’s likely to mitigate the frustration that attends the sometimes long wait for your reserved table. If the wait exceeds your patience, sidle up to the pretty bar for a classic martini, or peruse wine director Joseph DeLissio’s formidable wine list. And if the view of the Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t sate your fascination for that esteemed structure, order the Chocolate Marquis Brooklyn Bridge for dessert. Reservations essential. Jacket required. 1 Water Street, Dumbo. 718/522-5200. $20-$30.
If Aesop was right, and slow and steady wins the race, Saul is thankfully in the restaurant game for the long haul. Five years after it first opened, this quiet, unassuming little gem (a reflection of its gentle-giant owner, Saul Bolton, who learned his art at Bouley and Le Bernardin) just gets better and better. For the longest time, Saul was a well-kept neighborhood secret, but along with the Michelin star (picked up in 2005) come the crowds, so reservations are now essential if you want to sample Bolton’s herb-tinged smoky seafood chowder dotted with lardons, or black bass in a chanterelle coulis with fingerling potatoes. For an understated finish, try one of the handmade painted chocolates. Or go all out and order the baked Alaska, a not-to-be-missed, chocolate treat. Reservations essential. 140 Smith Street, Cobble Hill. 718/935-9844. $20-$30.
The warm, woody decor at Tempo will have you sighing before you’ve even dipped a fork into one of chef Michael Fiore’s taste sensations. Tempo’s easy-going elegance is a perfect fit with the latest generation of Park Slopians, who know that a good meal tastes even better when it’s within walking distance of your brownstone. Partner and wine director Robert Amato (of Babbo fame) has created a balanced wine list that boasts many bottles at $30 and under (ask for the 30 Zone), so you’re sure to find the perfect match for Fiore’s double-cut pork chop or the lemony pan-roasted organic chicken with chickpea fries. For dessert, try a crispy beignet or the sinfully rich date and toffee pudding. Reservations suggested. Closed Monday. 256 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope. 718/636-2020. $18-$24.