Michael Ayoub has done the impossible — again — by creating a truly fancy restaurant that is truly family friendly.
It’s no surprise that Ayoub has once again reinvented high-end cuisine at his five-month-old eatery, Fornino, on Park Slope’s new restaurant gold coast of Fifth Avenue. His original location on the same site, the beloved Cucina, was a borough trend-setter, opening in 1989 on what was then the least likely place for one of the city’s best Northern Italian place.
Cucina closed in 2000, and Ayoub got out of the business for a while, but this summer, he returned with a retooled restaurant featuring some of the same spirit (and all of the excellence) of Cucina, but a less-stuffy, more inviting, clubhouse feel.
“I love being back in the kitchen,” Ayoub said. “And now, there’s no one I can’t feed. I have everything from wagon wheel pasta to white anchovies and Tuscan chicken liver.”
He was also quick to mention the ultimate family friendly item: his signature grilled pizza. For $12, the kids can split a buffalo mozzarella pie while the adults exercise their sophisticated palates (or order the Pizza Vinny Scotto, which features spicy sausage, three cheeses and roasted pepper aioli, $15).
Standout appetizers include roasted cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins ($6); an onion, goat cheese and olive tart ($6) and a plate of that mozzarella (so fresh that the cow has separation anxiety, $9).
But Ayoub really blows you away with his pasta entrees. Despite the name, the short rib ravioli ($19) is not a thin pocket, but a big pouch of savory meat warms the autumnal stomach. The candele and cauliflower ($15) covers those thick pasta tubes with a cheesy cauliflower puree plus big chunks of the vegetable. Olives provided an inspired kick. And Ayoub’s take on a classic sausage and broccoli rabe pasta ($16) is also impressive, substituting spicy chicken sausage for the traditional pork.
Chickpea fries and roasted Brussels sprouts (both $8) are ideal side dishes.
After parting ways during the main course, adults and the kids can reunite for dessert, thanks to a classic Ayoub touch: a perfect chocolate layer cake ($5). No fancy creme anglais, no swirls of caramel, white chocolate and ganach on the plate, no adornment is need for this straightforward, but perfect, finishing touch.
Fornino [256 Fifth Ave. at Carroll Street in Park Slope, (718) 399-8800]