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Imagine you’re in a farmhouse dining in
the hills of Tuscany. You’re sitting among friends at a big wooden
table with couples kissing to your right and big families toasting
one another to the left. A rustic iron chandelier hangs overhead;
candles glow at the tables; the walls are weathered brick or
fading tones of rusty red. Yeasty bread and piney notes of rosemary
scent the air.
Now transplant that image to Park Slope, and you’ve got Scottadito Osteria Toscana, a rustic Tuscan eatery. "Scottadito" means "finger blistering," and refers to a chef working lightning fast. The osteria opened in September in the space formerly occupied by the Japanese restaurant Gingko Leaf. The owners are Michele (Mi-KEL’-ee) Di Bari, chef Paolo Nozzoli and Park Slope developer Donald Minerva who transformed Gingko Leaf’s cool, Zen-like setting into an earthy backdrop and impressive wine cellar worthy of the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" - with food to match.
"Hello Bella" is the convivial greeting Di Bari offers women entering his eatery. The warmth of his greeting continues throughout the evening with solicitous waitstaff who can guide diners through the menu and offer knowledgeable recommendations about the Italian wine list.
The owners are committed to using sustainable, organic ingredients whenever they can, preferring to purchase their provisions from small farms on the East Coast, sometimes sharing resources with their neighbor the Park Slope Food Co-op. It’s an honorable goal that pays off in exquisitely fresh ingredients.
Our waitress suggested a special "burrata," a young mozzarella with a fresh, milky taste and a center that’s not quite set. Nozzoli, who cooked in Manhattan’s East River Cafe and has catered for fashionistas at Pier 59 Studios, bakes the cheese with a wrapping of grilled zucchini and prosciutto, then drizzles the little disk with truffle oil. It’s nutty, salty and the oil adds an earthy note.
I was less enamored with pasta that I shared as an appetizer. The thick ribbons of house-made egg pappardelle were perfectly silky, firm yet tender. Instead of a robust, meaty stew over the noodles, the wild boar ragout was tame, lacking the richness a good ragout should have. Chicken liver pate smeared on crisp slices of country bread had a muted, somewhat underseasoned taste.
An entree special of roasted duck breast was delectable, each rosy slice rimmed with a succulent sliver of crisp fat. A winy, beefy-flavored sauce naps each slice and moistens fluffy mashed potatoes. An unusually light caponata - not the sweet-and-sour variety but a roasted stew of eggplant sweetened with onions and given a saline note with black olives - accompanied the meat. Every note of the trio harmonized beautifully.
While the duck entree neared perfection, huge prawns over creamed spinach didn’t mesh. The five shrimp, served head-on in the shell, were the size of a man’s fist, but lacked the fresh, delicate taste I associate with the shellfish. The first-rate spinach, simply blended with bechamel (cream sauce), made an arresting mossy-colored cushion for the peach shrimp, but as partners, the combo was just "eh."
Go with the vin santo, a sweet dessert wine that’s lighter than sherry, and crisp housemade pistachio biscotti for dessert. If you’re not too full, add one or two of the artisanal cheeses offered as dessert. It’s a proper Tuscan way to conclude a multi-course meal. The other desserts - a saffron-tinged panna cotta topped with a swirl of aged Balsamic vinegar and a gorgeous, berry-strewn fruit tart - are correctly Italian, which means they may not be sweet enough for American palates.
While Fifth Avenue in Park Slope has turned the area into a destination for good dining, Seventh Avenue and its side streets could use a little culinary shaking up. Once Scottadito Osteria Toscana works out the few kinks in the kitchen, it should do just that.
Scottadito Osteria Toscana (788A Union St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues in Park Slope) accepts cash only. Entrees: $16-$26. The restaurant serves dinner seven days a week. Brunch is offered on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 am to 3 pm. For reservations (for parties of six or more), or more information, call (718) 636-4800.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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