Bloomberg News

Roberta’s Pitches Great Pizza With Foie Gras Squab: Ryan Sutton

November 17, 2011

Nov. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The electric glow of an ATM illuminates the entrance to Roberta’s, a converted Brooklyn garage dispensing culinary magic with Wagyu beef, black truffles and $3 cans of Budweiser beer.

Outside, there are bicycles chained to a street sign, motorbikes propped up against a cinderblock wall and livery cabs hawking cash-only rides. There’s a notable absence of Escalades and Town Cars.

Inside, a wood-burning oven keeps the room hot as hell. Waitresses wear plaid, bartenders sport tattoos and bearded men too young to be balding don wool caps for no good reason.

One wall is covered in Mexican Christmas lights. The floor is concrete. Inhale: Roberta’s smells of oak embers, always; of toasted garlic, sometimes; of pricey perfume, never.

I was the only diner wearing a tie.

Check in with the host. The wait for three bar seats is 90 minutes; for a picnic bench, two hours. The wait for a tasting menu, a few months. In a hurry? Pizzas are tossed, charred and boxed in 10 minutes. They’re among the city’s best.

Roberta’s is one of New York’s most deeply satisfying Italian-American restaurants. In the summer, chef Carlo Mirarchi throws a handful of trucidi noodles into the piquant juice of Sun Gold tomatoes; shavings of Mediterranean bottarga pump up the flavor.

Musty, Musky Stew

In the fall, he blends tomatoes with aged squab breast, heart and foie gras, resulting in a musty, musky stew for garganelli. And throughout the year, Roberta’s margherita pie shows off the tang of good pomodori with no soupiness. A drier mozzarella helps prevent the crust from drooping and the toppings from sliding off in a mess.

In summertime, basil leaves come from Roberta’s rooftop greenhouse. I ordered a cranberry juice. My waiter shook his head.

“If we don’t juice it, we don’t serve it.”

He then described the Italian-only wines-by-the glass list.

So, things aren’t entirely local. I had California caviar -- no crummy hackleback roe here. A pile of firm sturgeon eggs sat atop fatty Kansas Wagyu, a Le Bernardin-quality surf-and- turf that would carry a $45 supplement at that high-end venue. The dish is just $13 at Roberta’s, a restaurant whose prices brazenly defy the inflationary trend.

Burgundy Truffles

Taleggio-filled ravioli, scented with black burgundy truffles, was $18 in August. A slab of rare foie gras is now $17. Only two entrees rise above the $20 mark -- a skirt steak ($22) and a pork chop ($28), both massively flavorful.

Good restaurants typically don’t have televisions; Roberta’s is a pleasant exception. There are few things more enjoyable than finagling a counter seat and watching the Yankees clobber the Red Sox while snacking on Mirarchi’s sweetbreads, crisp on the outside, silken within.

Cleanse the palate with a soft wheat beer from Cooperstown’s Ommegang brewery, or keep the digestive process moving with a Hudson Valley Bourbon Manhattan. Reds by the glass veer too much toward room temperature and Lambrusco lives up to its pizza-cola stereotype with too much sugar, too little fizz.

Wiser oenophiles will order the excellent orange wines by the bottle, a fun little class of vino where the white grapes spend some happy time macerating with their skins. So when you commit $48 for the Cantina Giardino, you’re getting some freaky Cabernet-like tannins to match some nervy Riesling-like acid. All the better to pair with your beef tongue and beets, a hearty plate whose sweetness begs for a hit of puckery tang.

Cinnamon, Clove

Skip the dry skate and blubbery lamb breast. Stick with elegant small plates or personal pizzas. Coppa di testa, gelatinous and porky, reeks of cinnamon and clove. A sampler of cured meats argues that Iowa’s prosciutto is just as good as Parma’s. Even better: cuttlefish acts as a neutral whiteboard for Serrano chili and fragrant yuzu. Never, ever order the smoked vanilla gelato.

Take home an Axl Rosenberg pie, Roberta’s best pizza. The brash blend of jalapenos, spicy sopressata, and double garlic flips the bird at restraint and good breath.

Rating: **

The Bloomberg Questions

Price: Most dishes under $20.

Sound Level: Around 80 but tolerable.

Date Place: Only if you date is very cool, very chill.

Inside Tip: Dense, satisfying pumpkin doughnuts.

Special feature: Some of the city’s best pizzas.

Will I be back? When I’m near the L train.

Roberta’s is at 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn. Information: +1-718-417-1118; www.robertaspizza.com.

Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.

(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

--Editors: Jeremy Gerard, Daniel Billy.

To contact the writer of this column: Ryan Sutton in New York at rsutton1@bloomberg.net or qualityrye on twitter.com/qualityrye

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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