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The convivial and cozy dining room at Evelina

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Evelina Beautifully Represents a New Wave of Brooklyn Italian Bistros

Critic Robert Sietsema takes a first look at the Fort Greene restaurant

A new type of bistro is sweeping Brooklyn. Instead of being inspired by French cooking, its menu tends to be more Italian, while preserving the easygoing ambiance, small scale, and mid-range prices of the classic neighborhood French bistro. Depending upon wood-burning ovens and sometimes making pizzas as a sideline, some of these places have been influenced by the borough’s wildly popular Neapolitan pizza parlors.

These new bistros emphasize vegetables, seafood, and boutique meats, often presented as small plates at least partly cooked in those wood ovens. Thus, the menus often contain six or more sections, making meals flexible in size and sequence, but also presenting something of a challenge to one’s ordering abilities. Alcohol programs are uncommonly diverse, and may emphasize aperitifs, vermouths, mezcals, ciders, and other more niche beverages in addition to the usual beers, wines, and creative cocktails.

The dining room of Evelina
Photo via Evelina

Examples of this new genre include Faro and Fausto. Now Evelina has joined their ranks. It occupies the former corner space of Chez Oskar, a stone’s throw from Fort Greene Park at 211 Dekalb Ave., between Adelphi Street and Clermont Avenue. Laid out the same as its predecessor, the interior has an improvised feel about it, with tables and chairs that might have come from an elementary school jumbled close together. An L-shaped bar occupies one side of the restaurant; the best and most commodious tables are nested in the front windows.

Delicata squash tempura with spicy honey
Delicata squash tempura with spicy honey
Charred octopus with fava bean puree
Charred octopus with fava bean puree

Discomfort aside, the food is often spectacular. Just look at the short vegetarian dishes for a moment. On my first of two visits the delicata squash tempura ($9), listed among the snacks, was my favorite — four rings lightly crusted, doused with honey and crumbled pecorino of the salty kind that comes from Sardinia. The next visit, it had been promoted to the section called “vegetables” for a dollar more.

Other vegetable highlights included a warm mushroom salad with homemade ricotta and chestnuts (though maybe not quite enough of them), and peeled and grilled asparagus heaped with cheese, with the usual wobbly egg perched on top. This dish has become an Italian bistro commonplace but is rarely done so well, or so generously.

Chef Lanfranco Paliotti is at his best when wildly improvising, such as in a weird salad — not really a salad, because the elements seem like disparate items — featuring persimmons, stracciatella, and pumpkin seeds fenced off with radicchio in the lightest of dressings.

This being an Italian bistro, pastas are prominently featured in large enough portions to make an entire meal for one, or a shareable course for two. The malloreddus in a white pork ragu ($19) is fundamentally Sardinian, but even better was a soupy bowl of strangozzi (like malformed spaghetti) with cockles and sea urchin, the latter added at the end so it provided little explosions of bright orange sweetness.

Of the six menu divisions, there’s lots of action in the Meat section, and some real bargains, including a dish of poached veal tongue in a Milanese tuna sauce, garnished with shavings of actual black truffle ($15). It was gone on a second visit, on a menu that changes regularly. Another entrée of sliced lamb loin and two lamb chops ($32), sufficient for two diners, arrived mounded with crushed potatoes, artichokes, and olives in a vast heap. Disentangling the elements proved half the fun.

Bitter chocolate tart
Bitter chocolate tart

Seafood occupies its own section, too, featuring octopus, halibut filet, whole grilled black bass from local sources, and king crab. The preparations are various, some seeming like entrées and others like warm salads. Putting a meal together can be a head-scratching experience. All I can say is to either ask the waiter a lot of questions, or order less than you think you need and add a dish or two at the end.

Alternately, try one of the multi-element desserts, which are larger than expected for $7 each. One is plenty for two diners. A wedge of bitter chocolate topped with crème fraiche and sea salt is so dense that you’ll be scraping it off your teeth. A nice glass pot of caramel pudding comes with polenta cookies. These taste very good dipped in espresso, so at this point in your meal, it may be a good idea to leave off the alcohol and end with the coffee.

Really, whatever crazy sequence of dishes you manage to put together at Evelina, you’ll shoot back into the icy street satiated and happy with your choices.

Evelina Restaurant

211 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205 (929) 298-0209 Visit Website
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