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PREACHING TO THE CHOIR • Brooklyn Paper

PREACHING TO THE CHOIR

In 'Da' spotlight: Da Vincenzo's "paglia e fieno" combines green and white fettucine with lobster, shrimp, clams and mussels in a light tomato broth.
The Brooklyn Papers / Jori Klein

Ah, Windsor Terrace. So near Prospect Park.
Friendly neighbors. Decent schools. But the dining options are
– let me be generous – only so-so.



Sure, there’s a diner that, after a rocky start, is beginning
to serve decent fare. There’s a hotdog place with good franks,
a bar that serves tasty burgers, and a couple of long-standing
Italian restaurants that are not exactly destination stops.



Sensing the need for an Italian ristorante that offers locals
an upscale, yet reasonably priced, meal in an attractive setting,
Nat Natale opened Da Vincenzo in August. Natale’s wife, Luisa,
designed the lovely square room, coloring its walls in Tuscan
inspired tones, adding a wooden bar and chairs and lighting the
room with amber-colored glass chandeliers.



If you dine early in the evening, you’ll be treated to a view
of the church across the street, aglow with golden light as the
sun sets. It’s a gorgeous few moments that you won’t find in
any other location – except Florence, perhaps?



In the summer, Natale, who named the eatery in honor of his father,
Vincenzo, folds back the wall of glass doors that face Prospect
Park West, extending the dining area to the sidewalk and allowing
breezes to rustle the tables’ linen clothes.



Like the setting, chef Thomas Musarra’s menu offers carefully
cooked, familiar Italian dishes with a few novel touches that
elevate a meal.



While the owners and the kitchen are well intentioned, there
are a few goofs. For example, Natale owns the Regina Bakery –
right around the corner from his eatery – that bakes good country
Italian and other breads, but he offers only mediocre, spongy
Italian loaves to his restaurant’s patrons. With all the great
Sullivan Street Bakery bread and house-baked focaccia served
all over the borough, these slices are a letdown. So is the bruschetta,
a gift to diners. Although the ripe tomatoes are mixed into a
nice, garlicky topping, the slices of toast beneath them are
burned.



Leave the little pile of mixed lettuces in a too-sweet dressing
on the plate and dive into the two crisp, delicate lobster and
shrimp cakes. They’re lightly breaded, full of sweet shellfish
chunks and fragrant with fresh parsley. The cakes are great as
is, but they are even better with a dab of the red pepper aioli
served on the side.



Compared to the seafood appetizer, the eggplant rollatini (thin
slices of the vegetable filled with ricotta and mozzarella) –
while competently prepared and drizzled with just enough fresh
tasting tomato sauce – was just okay.



At Da Vincenzo, there are 13 pasta dishes that range from classic
"spaghetti alla marinara" and "penne alla vodka,"
to a cardiologist’s nightmare: potato gnocchi in a gorgonzola,
Parmesan, brie and fontina sauce.



I was pleased with the linguine in clam sauce. In this dish,
perfectly tender clams in the shell circled a generous portion
of linguine in a rich shellfish broth, liberally laced with garlic.



The tender veal "saltimbocca" was just as appealing
as the pasta. Slices of the delicate meat are rolled around prosciutto
and heavily scented with fresh sage. The meat is topped with
a generous pile of woodsy, chewy slices of shiitake mushrooms
in a rich veal reduction flavored with Barolo red wine. Nutty,
roasted asparagus complements the entree.



I’d like to rave about the tiny, perfectly cooked lamb chops,
too, but the chef included something in the dish that makes me
crazy: strawberries. I’m fine with just about any meat and fruit
pairing, but couple the delicate sweet strawberry with anything
savory and it turns into an abusive little bully, overpowering
even an assertively flavored partner. The chef employs blackberries
too, and they’re fine – any tart berry will work – but save the
strawberries for a deserving scoop of gelato.



You’ll find the Italian ice cream on the dessert roundup, along
with other tried-and-true finales like tiramisu, cheesecake and
sorbet.



I’d skip all of them for Musarra’s "banana turtle cake."
It’s a lofty affair of whipped cream, crunchy walnuts and caramel
between chewy, brownie-like layers, that takes its inspiration
from the chocolate "Turtle" candies (nuts and caramel
covered in milk chocolate). Da Vincenzo’s version is just as
gooey and satisfying; the huge slice looks like something you’d
find on a Bennigan’s menu. The chocolate isn’t too sweet, and
the whipped cream has only a touch of sugar, so it’s a pleasure
savored by adult palates.



If you’re not tired of warm chocolate cakes with runny centers,
then the bittersweet, crusty version served here won’t disappoint.



Take a pass on the apple tart, though. It’s about as mundane
as this pastry gets.



Hopefully, more ambitious restaurateurs will follow Natale’s
lead and open eateries on Prospect Park West, too. The locals
are waiting.



Da Vincenzo (256 Prospect Park West
at Prospect Avenue in Windsor Terrace) accepts American Express,
Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12.95-$21.95.
The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.
For reservations, call (718) 369-3590.


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