Mon-Thu, 5pm-11pm; Fri, 5pm-midnight; Sat, noon-midnight; Sun, noon-11pm
G at Clinton-Washington Aves.; C at Lafayette Ave.
American Express, MasterCard, Visa
When Roman’s opened in Fort Greene in 2009, a lot of people took issue with the restaurant’s Italian-inspired menu. For starters, it was handwritten, some said illegibly, as if a small child had scribbled it off in a hurry. Second, it followed the three-course Italian model by including traditional primi-size portions of pasta—a practice some starchy-food fanatics take as a personal affront, as if it were part of a sinister Bloombergian nanny-state plot to curb bucatini eating. But the main problem with this seemingly harmless document, according to its detractors, was that it changed daily. The idea that a favorite dish, once identified, wouldn’t be readily available on a return visit seemed shocking to some and inscrutable to many. In this reckless approach to menu-making, however, Roman’s was in good company: A beacon of seasonal locavorism, Chez Panisse (inspiration to most New Brooklyn Cuisine restaurants, including this one) has been printing a daily menu for decades now, and, closer to home, Torrisi Italian Specialties effortlessly turned what some see as a deficit into a room-packing draw.
Despite the backlash, Roman’s has plugged merrily along, rightly believing that the best thing a neighborhood restaurant could do for its repeat clientele is provide variety, and the potential for a new discovery on each visit. The room buzzes at night, with low lights glinting off white subway tile, and local celebrities (a pie baker of some repute; a few Greenmarket farmers; the author Jonathan Ames in customary motoring cap) perch at the marble bar or one of the mismatched dining tables. If the Underground Gourmet lived in the neighborhood, we’d linger there, too, popping in for a bowl of pasta or the ingenious house cocktails—a daily “bitter” and “sour,” flexible categories that incorporate ingredients like amaro or quince syrup in whimsical combinations. The bartenders are that perfect blend of fastidious and friendly, and the esoteric wine list emphasizes the emerging subgenre known as “natural” wines, made with minimal intervention. It offers myriad opportunities to try something new, not unlike the ever-evolving Roman’s itself.
The common denominator behind chef Dave Gould’s nightly improvisations is his use of carefully sourced ingredients and sustainable meats, procured from small local farms. (It’s a philosophy inherited from the owners’ Williamsburg restaurants, Diner and Marlow & Sons, where Gould once worked.) Take, for instance, one recent night’s starter of caramelized pumpkin accessorized with balsamic vinegar, crunchy strips of puntarelle, and paper-thin crisps of fried pancetta—an autumnal ode of sweet, bitter, and salty flavors. In another antipasto, roasted broccoli stood in for romaine in an improvisatory Caesar, the florets coated in a creamy anchovy dressing and mingled with crunchy croutons and shaved Parmesan. These seasonal flourishes are worked into the pasta course as well, and it’s worth noting that in response to complaints, the kitchen has bumped up the portion sizes. Still, don’t come expecting Tony’s Di Napoli. One could reasonably eat a serving of Gorgonzola-sauced potato gnocchi, flecked with radicchio leaves, or a nice bowl of housemade pappardelle with white ragù—both preferable to a slightly oven-scalded baked paccheri—and still have room to share an entrée. (We were partial to the fish—a tender hunk of halibut one night, a striped-bass fillet another—in a buttery wine sauce with cardoons and briny green olives.) That’s the point of an Italian-style menu like this, but it’s not a mandate. However you choose to approach the menu, though, save room for Roman’s one constant: a dense, deeply flavored, sea-salted chocolate sorbet that never goes out of season.Ideal Meal
Menu changes daily. You’ll have to wing it.