My first meal at Fausto in the closing days of 2017 proved one of the most promising of the year. The restaurant occupies the shuttered location of neighborhood favorite Franny’s, on Flatbush Avenue not far from Grand Army Plaza. Now, the room is relentlessly beige, with a bar on one side separated by a partition from tables flanked by a banquette. The dining area snakes around a pair of roaring wood ovens in an open kitchen into a second dining area in a rear corner, which is the best place to sit because it’s also the quietest. If Fausto has a defect, it’s the loud volume level, making conversation difficult.
I was a fan of Franny’s from the outset, enjoying the pizzas but liking the vegetable dishes even more. When the homemade charcuterie came around at Franny’s, reputedly made in the basement, I flipped with pleasure. The new restaurant recreates some of that early excitement, though in a different way. No pizzas. But the wood-burning ovens are deployed to great effect, most prominently in my favorite dish of the evening: a whole roasted porgy ($26), head, tail, cheeks, eyeballs, and all. The skin became crisp, the flesh smoky. Bisecting the fish was a chunky sauce featuring Kalamata olives, herbs, and fruity olive oil.
Every bite was bliss, as every iota of the fish was consumed. Other secondi on the menu, which roughly follows the standard three-course Italian meal progression, included roast chicken, lamb chops, and a braised pork shank for two ($44), which I hope to try someday. I saw one sail by in the dimly lit room, and it looked like a minor mountain in a major range.
Working backwards, the primi section offers seven pasta selections, the composition of which reminded me of Faro, another Italian place that utilizes a wood-burning oven. Taking the most conventional route (really, who wants to be challenged by a pasta?), my dining companion and I selected a tagliatelle with an almost normal ragu. In this case, lamb was furnished in big chunks, lightly sauced, with pasta that was thinner than usual for the type. Other choices that sounded particularly interesting: sweet potato tortelloni with nutmeg and walnuts, and linguine with clams and pork sausage, striking a Portuguese note.
The antipasti were divided between raw fish dishes and salads, with the latter dominating. My choice was a composed salad of shaved raw cauliflower, pine nuts, and currants doused with anchovy caper vinaigrette, a very Sicilian recipe that reminded me of the vegetable dishes at Otto. The slow-poached egg with mixed mushrooms sounded good, too.
There’s a short list of snacks — Italian tapas guaranteed to go well with the French and Italian wine list. The sardines ($10) with sofrito and bread crumbs is really just a couple of small filets in a verdant sauce, with the bread crumbs so large they provide substantial crunch. A trio of pork meatballs, each perched in a puddle of broccoli rabe pesto, tasted less interesting than it sounded.
The restaurant is a project of L’Artusi vets restaurateur Joe Campanale and chef Erin Shambura, a West Village Italian restaurant as famous for its wine list as for its food. Accordingly, the wines are essential to the food at Fausto. The by-the-glass selection is limited, but all the selections there are good and also interesting. Among reds, there’s a nice red barbera-bonarda blend from La Stoppa with a tiny bit of fizz, a couple of sparklers, including a sparkling cider, and a rather amazing cerasuolo d’abruzzo that was a very deep red for a rose, with a flat, clean, tart taste. Perfect with a pasta.
Another interesting feature of the alcohol program is a list of aperitivi, which makes a nice alternative to opening the meal with a (much stronger) cocktail. No better way to stimulate the appetite than a glass of Contralto bitter ($12), brandy-laced and herb-infused, boasting a recipe that dates to 1935. And there are five other choices, too, plus beer and cocktails. Nice to have a new place where the drinking options are as broad and unique as the dining options, where a drink and a snack at the bar can be a real adventure.