Last weekend, the Hubs and I decided to use the beautiful weather we were experiencing as an excuse to take advantage of the many outdoor dining options in Fort Greene. Earlier in the day we spied a lovely looking garden at the back of Caffe e Vino on DeKalb Ave., an adorable Italian restaurant on an unlikely block of unsavory bodegas and greasy Chinese takeout, right across the street from the Hospital. The back garden is a wee oasis away from the grit outside, and I was surprised to find that at 8:00 on a lovely weekend evening that the garden tables were only half occupied.
The meal started with a basket filled with crusty bread and foccaccia and a compimentary “tomato flan.” I admit I was apprehensive upon the latter’s arrival at our table as its molded presentation looked more like a cloudy aspic than anything, but it was in fact more the texture of pate than gelatin, and had an intense tomato-basil flavor. The breads that accompanied it were equally delicious. The artfully presented starters we ordered were both winners, too.
The caprese salad (pictured above) was served, as I do it at home, with aged (or reduced) balsamico and a splash of olive oil, but the cheese and tomatoes were in big hunks rather than slices. Not how I would do it, but not unpleasant. We also got a porcini-filled crepe, which I don’t think I have ever seen at an Italian restaurant before. It was quite delicious, with a great combination of mushrooms, cheese and slightly crispy crepe. A bit of truffle oil imparted a hint of pleasant earthiness.
After the promise of the beginning of the meal, the entrees fell surprisingly flat. The malfatti (spinach and ricotta gnocchi) with Butter and Sage was catastrophically underseasoned; the only bites that tasted of anything were the ones I accidentally took of the enormous stem of sage nestled in with the malfatti (it is the wormy looking thing in the photo, left). The mixed mushroom ravioli were better than the mafatti, but tasted identical to the filling of the crepe entree. The descriptions of the items indicated that they were quite different, not that they were identical, down to the touch of truffle oil. I suppose we should have known better than to order two mushroom plates in one meal, but in my opinion it is part of a waiter’s duty to inform customers when one person orders two nearly identical dishes.
They had a nice selection of wines, mostly moderately priced and mostly Italian. We had the Nero D’Avola, one of my favorite Italian reds, and it did not disappoint, especially after a bit of breathing time.
The service was spotty. The person I assume was meant to be our water was often too busy with the other table he was serving in the garden to pay attention to us. When he saw that we needed attention, though, a manager (or owner?) who was sitting nearby with a friend got up and take our order, or tend to whatever else needed tending. Everyone there was quite pleasant, so it wasn’t a trouble to us, but certainly it wasn’t busy enough in the restaurant to warrant the tag-team treatment. Those issues need to be worked out.
All in all, the first half of the meal was pleasant enough, as was the setting. But the entire experience was not satisfying enough to warrant the nearly $100 we spent (including the $30 bottle of wine) on dinner. And it certainly doesn’t pass the Bocca Lupo test. It is to be seen if we will return. Maybe another evening of beautiful weather will lure us there again some day…