The Early Word: O'Barone in Red Hook
O'Barone just opened three weeks ago, in the old 360 spot on Van Brunt in Red Hook. It's owned and operated by chef-owner Fulvio Leone, who hails from the northern region of Lombardy, Italy--but his mom comes from Austria, hence specials like pork schnitzel. The room is simple and inviting, with a large map of Italy hanging behind a small bar, and candles on the wooden tables. Prices are fair--averaging $8 for an appetizer and $12 for a main. The wine list is all-Italian, and could use a few bottles in the $20 range, but we settled on a Tuscan red for $32, which did the trick.
The menu is, for the most part, fairly generic Italian--dishes like tagliatelle with mushrooms, cheese ravioli, and yellow and red pepper lasagna. But last night, there was also a special of bread gnocchi, which Leone said was the only authentic dish from Lombardy that he was serving. Well, if you're only going to do one, this is a stellar dish to start with--hopefully Leone will start serving more dishes from his home. Bread gnocchi are made by soaking bread crumbs and then making a dough of them with eggs and Parmesan. Leone then forms them into oblongs that look exactly like Jimmy Dean sausages, boils them, and serves them in a sauce of melted butter, Parmesan, rosemary, and tiny dice of roasted butternut squash. It was wonderful.
Actually, with the exception of the under-salted tagliatelle, everything we sampled was extremely well-made. Even a simple lentil salad with grilled asparagus and apples was lively, much better than it had to be, and the fresella with tomato and buffalo mozzarella--that's a ring of hard bread that's re-hydrated and topped with the cheese and tomatoes--was perfect. (That's the fresella to the right; terrible cell phone photo on account of a camera malfunction.)
The meal ended with tiny glasses of Leone's homemade limoncello, sweet and tart. This is a very promising neighborhood Italian joint.
360 Van Brunt, Red Hook, Brooklyn