The Early Word -- Cataldo's
The margherita pie at Cataldo's (click to enlarge)
Cataldo's--a new Italian restaurant at Vanderbilt and Dean on the fringes of Prospect Heights--is hard to figure out. It's so brightly lit, that it shines like a beacon to cars zooming by on Atalntic Avenue one block away. While this may be good for advertising purposes, by the time you enter and sit down, you feel like you're in an operating room.
An oven decorated with all sorts of quarried stone products is the centerpiece of the open kitchen, which sits at the far end of the dining room. A quick glance indicates that it's burning hardwood. So this is partly a Naples-pie type place, selling only individual boutiquey pies in a Motorino vein. Fair enough. But there's also a long steam table filled with pastas cooked well past al dente, and the sort of accessory dishes that a Sicilian cafe in Dyker Heights or Bensonhurst might vend. Indeed, the list of pastas is completely predictable, running from lasagne to fettuccine alfredo to penne alla vodka. Then there are the boneless veal, chicken, and fish entrees that, with the pastas, comprise the menu of most Brooklyn Italian-American restaurants.
In other words, this is an old-style Italian joint in a very unusual place with a woodburning pizza oven grafted on. The only place I can compare it to is the excellent La Villa in Park Slope.
The margherita pizza pictured above was nevertheless quite good, with a crust that seemed only a little bit too stiff, and cheese that, while fine, was clearly not the fiore di latte (fresh mozzarella) favored by the best Naples pie places in town (and by Totonno's, for that matter). The lasagne was perfect of its type, cut from a big square on the steam table, smashed down by the attendant, heaped with extra ground meat and cheese, and then zapped in the microwave. We loved it and unavoidably ate every morsel.
Another high point of the meal was the odd-ball fried calamari sandwich, an obscure bit of Scilian soul food I've only seen once before -- at Catene Deli in the south Slope near the 4th Avenue F station. It was totally scrumptious, as you can see from the picture below. 554 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 718-857-6700