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The Early Word on the Italian Revamp of Bonita, Roman's

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Krieger, 11/12/09

Around the time Danny Meyer unveiled a monster project by the name of Maialino in Gramercy, hipster Williamsburg kings Mark Firth and Andrew Tarlow quietly opened Roman's, their revamp of the failed Bonita space at 243 DeKalb in Fort Greene. This time, the tiny restaurant is serving market-driven Italian, with handwritten menus and a small roster of dishes that changes nightly. To date, diner feedback reflects confusion over portion sizes and the limited offerings, as well as a general distaste for the fact that menus aren't descriptive in the slightest. That being said, most adore the food and the setting and look forward to return visits.

The Solid News: Over on Clinton Hill Blog: "We started with the “heirloom radish,” which consisted of a chopped radish and a few other radish-like roots, salted and served with creme fraiche. It was light and fresh, though a few bites were oversalted and others were not salted enough...For second courses, we split the sauerkraut soup and the panette. Both were delicious. The soup was well-favored without being sour, and included a delicious bite of some sort of meat (pork?) and an egg. The panette, small penne pasta, was served with a delicious sauce and toasted pine nuts. Our third course was a stuffed meatball. Delicious, but small. I’m really interested to see how Roman’s develops...The bill was fairly pricey for the quantity, but I’m game to go back once they have a regular, full menu." [Clinton Hill Blog]

The Salty, Small, And Bad News: The one Yelper to weigh in so far is not impressed: "The space has stayed the same with a few decorative upgrades and looks good... Our waiter was on it, knew the menu (which is very small), and took our drinks order quickly. The bartender on the other hand was more occupied chatting with his lady friend than taking care of the customers and so we waited a good 20 minutes for the drinks to arrive. Just in time for the first course - we should have gone straight to wine and not had cocktails! The waitress did warn us that the portions were small, but come on - this was worse and less than Jean George or Per Se or some other fancy eatery. There was literally less than 3 bites on each plate. We happen to know (since we asked as they were building the space) that Bonita was not able to make money based on the food cost. We clearly got the feeling that we were being taken after seeing the small plates...The food (fried eggplant, terrine on toast, spaghetti with anchovies and capers, parpadelle with lamb ragu, and braised beef) where all without fail too salty. Even the salad, while crisp and fresh, had too much salt on it. And I like salt, but this was too much. We had a French Red (forget the name) which at $34 was great. All in all we had high expectations. The space met them, the food and staff not so much. We will probably be back to see if they have fixed the opening jitters." [Yelp]

The Great News: The lone user review on Metromix is a five spot: "I went for dinner here last night. The place has only been open a few days. As with their sister restaurant Diner, they use fresh ingredients and the menu changes daily. The place is very reasonably priced and suits the neighborhood well. They have a nice wine and liquor selection and a knowledgable and friendly staff. Other than some annoying college kids clicking away with their camera as if they were in a nightclub, it was a wonderful experience. I will definitely be regularly visiting this spot." [Metromix]

The "Good Food, Annoying New Brooklyn Affectation" News: A user on Mouthfuls Food posts a detailed rundown: "I thought the food, for what it was, was delicious. My pig's head terrine antipasto was as good as can be. For a primo I had the sauerkraut soup: a pickled cabbage broth with clumps of sauerkraut, pork belly, and a poached egg. If I say this dish smelled better than it tasted, I don't mean that as a serious criticism; the fragrance, when they set it down, was overwhelming. The pork belly was a bit tough, though. My segundo, a pork meatball stuffed with nettles and cheese, was very good. What are the problems with this place? First, the menu is too limited. Second, it can't match the mighty Franny's. Finally, a problem springing from one of Roman's New Brooklyn affectations...The menu changes almost entirely every day. They have to produce a new set of menus every day. This being the New Brooklyn, they hand-write them. They describe each dish with only one or, if absolutely necessary, two words. So, the menu will list such items as "Terrine" or "Agnolotti" or "Meatball" -- without telling you what [they are] made of. That information must await your waitron's recitation...Stupid. It sounds like faint praise if I say I think this is now the best restaurant in Fort Greene. And, in a sense, faint praise is all I want to give this place. But make no mistake: I really liked my food, really liked the friendly and enthusiastic staff, and intend to be back frequently." [Mouthfuls Food]

The Amazing News: Ricky Robinett posts a big time rave: "To me, the Salt Cod Fritters were by far the stand out item. I have never been a huge fish fan but they were incredible. I only hope that this is on the menu on my future visits. The salad was very minimalist, just spinach and halved pears with a vinaigrette but was exceptional. I was not too hot on the Terrine, but I just don’t think it was my kind of dish...The Agnolotti was like tiny butternut squach raviolis. My wife and father-in-law both reported that they were incredible. The Pennetti was basically a penne pasta with tomato sauce, pine nuts and capers. It was probably the best pasta I’ve had in the city. Although I’m not a huge pine nut or capers fan they were distributed perfectly in this dish. I wasn’t adventurous to try the Sauerkraut Soup but my mother-in-law seemed content, though she didn’t rave as much as the rest of us...I have never had a meatball like this? it was incredible. My wife doesn’t typically like pork and she even was blown away by it...At the conclusion of our meal our waiter seemed apprehensive about the small dessert menu...We opted to try one of each plate and they both were amazing...I cannot wait to go back to Roman’s." [Ricky Robinett's Blog]

The Excellent News: One commenter on The Times' Fort Greene Blog: "I had dinner at Roman’s this past Sunday and was actually pretty blown away. The food was fresh and the portions were perfect. We all got a bunch of plates to share and everything was beautifully prepared and delicious. They don’t have much of a dessert menu yet, but hopefully that will change! Although the restaurant was completely empty when my party of four was there, it probably has to do that they just opened. I really do hope it ends up being successful! I love that their menu changes daily and look forward to returning in the near future." Most other comments are very positive, but there is a lukewarm one. Check back on the blog for more in-depth reports, as they've called on readers to send in reviews. [NYT]

The Twitterific News: @partyliz loves: "Roman's was great. Everything was perfectly cooked, spiced, marinated and in the case of my cocktail, shaken. Not too $ too." Meanwhile @kateblumm says nothing of the food but spots something interesting: "At Roman's trying to determine identity of the food critic next to us. Shortish, shaved head, black glasses. large sheaf of papers." Any ideas? [Twitter]
—Gabe Ulla

Roman's

243 DeKalb Ave., Brooklyn, NY

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