Monday, February 8, 2010

La Taverna

If you are looking for decent eats at a low price, La Taverna may be just what you are looking for. They opened in Greenpoint, Brooklyn about seven months ago on Manhattan Avenue at Java Street. It is an Italian trattoria-style restaurant complete with heavy carved wooden chairs, textured plaster walls in a sunny yellow, wrought iron chandeliers, and a flat screen tv at the bar with a futbol game playing. The menu is fresh, authentic-sounding, and very, very affordable. Not to mention they don't have a liquor license yet so it's still BYO. I noticed the place last summer and the menu looked great, I just hadn't heard a word about it from anyone. From the looks of the decor, the owners definitely invested time, money, and heart to make the place just right. This weekend, Will and I made the right decision and decided to pop in for a casual dinner out.

Wine bottle in hand, we walked in and were immediately greeted by a stout, middle-aged man with a ton of energy. We later realized that this guy was Papa Gino. He made a few silly old guy jokes, took our wine to open it, and seated us. There were only two other tables of two seated out of about 12-15 tables in the dining room. For a frigid winter night, this probably was close to typical for any restaurant, but not at all good for a struggling new restaurant.

Recession-wise, it isn't a great time to open up a small restaurant and the dead winter season only adds to the struggle. These factors always make me skeptical about how fresh or good anything will be, especially considering the large menu and the amount of ingredients that they needed to stock to be able to expedite it.

Well, whether the place will be good or not wasn't going to be a mystery much longer, so we decided to set some expectations and really go for it. We ordered grilled calamari on greens and ordered the garlic bread appetizer for luck. If you want a good feel for the freshness or quality of a restaurant's product, I say order the most delicate, perishable item on the appetizer menu and see what they do with it. You will quickly know if you want to have an entree or bolt after the first course.

The calamari was tender, sweet, and flavorful. It offered a nice, lightly charred aroma and was plated over mixed baby greens with a very fresh tasting lemon vinaigrette. We agreed that it was delicious and proceeded to devour it, along with the very buttery, very garlicky garlic bread. Will did point out that despite being a good deal (it was only $6 or $7), they didn't give us the briny chewy tentacles, which are my favorite part. What a great guy to be thinking of me and my tentacles with a table full of good food in front of him.

For entrees, we ordered individual pizzas, which were offered in a 10" size and also in, I think, a 14" size. The waitress informed us that there was only whole wheat crust that day, which was great for me, but I think Will was a little disappointed. He's a bit of a pizza purist and likes to test out the classic pie, at least the first time.

The pizzas came and were good. They were not the highlight of the meal, but were passable. The prices were all so low, that I think my expectations were met, even though it wasn't nearly the best pizza I had ever had. The whole wheat crust was great, though--very homemade tasting. My Mediterranean Pizza with feta, spinach, fresh tomatoes, and olives was something I would get again and Will's sausage and cheese disappeared, so I guess it was pretty good, too. Toppings were a bit skimpy, but all flavors were very good. Our first course out-shined the second by far, but we certainly were not about to leave hungry.

I plan on returning in the near future and trying out an entree. The menu offered long lists of fish, pork, beef, and poultry entrees, as well as a nice salad section, and a gorgeous pasta selection. They were also offering free cream of tomato soup or lentil soup with each entree order. Something tells me the entrees, soups, and salads are all quite good and maybe the pizza was a menu afterthought.

Overall, we had a good experience. Papa Gino did a little too much hovering, interrupting, and joke telling, but the truth is, he was likeable and really nice. If it had been busier he would have been spreading his stories and jokes around, rather than saving them all for us. The bathrooms were impeccably clean, the waitress was friendly and efficient, and our bill was around $35. I dare anyone to feast like that in a cute place in Brooklyn for less than that. What a steal! The word around town is they also deliver--I should have grabbed a menu (but then I wouldn't get to see Papa Gino, would I?). If you're a Greenpointer or Williamsburger, check this one out sometime soon and let me know what you got and what you thought of it. They could use the business and I'm sure you could use a decent meal and some Papa Gino jokes.

Hopefully, things pick up and we have La Taverna in the hood for awhile!

La Taverna
946 Manhattan Avenue (corner of Java)
Brooklyn, NY 11222
(718) 383-0732
no website...c'mon Papa Gino, get a website

Buon Giorno!

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