A friend and I stopped by Roman’s at the edge of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill (243 DeKalb Ave, near Vanderbilt) early on a recent evening, and secured a window counter seat just as shoppers were hurrying home. I’d reviewed it in the Village Voice in February 2010, a few months after it opened, and had visited again a few years later, but hadn’t been back since.
The place was named after owner Andrew Tarlow’s son, Roman. Back then, I found the food fascinating, a series of small plates on a menu that changed daily — making it impossible to go back and enjoy a dish a second time. Under chef Dave Gould, fish and vegetables were high points, as were pastas — the thing I liked best was a spaghetti in brodo snowed with cheese, looking like a winter landscape.
Well, here I was again, finding the same closely clustered two-tops, bar commanding the center of the room, and white tiled interior — signaling hospitality, rather than just hospital. The menu under chef Hannah Shizgal-Paris now changes more gradually, retaining a few dishes and swapping supporting ingredients in others, as I found after checking the online menu on subsequent days.
More importantly — though I’d liked the food earlier, it knocked me out this time. Dishes were still organized in the traditional three-course Italian meal progression, but now the size was large enough that two could easily share each one, so that three dishes plus dessert, with one drink apiece, made a meal for two and ended up costing around $150.
Here’s how our visit went down. Dishes are still designated as lists of ingredients, and from a choice of six in the first course, we picked roasted cabbage, anchovy, caper leaves, and breadcrumbs ($22). While this may sound uninspiring, the cabbage was flavorfully charred, the caper leaves astringent, the bread crumbs crunchy, and the anchovies like a shout rather than a whisper — adding up to a course to be remembered. A week later, its equivalent featured citrus, caper leaves, mint, and goat ricotta, another illogical but doubtlessly delicious combo.
There’s a choice of three pastas for a second course, and it was actually a relief to have such a limited choice. All of them were unique combinations; there was no cacio e pepe, carbonara, Bolognese, or Amatriciana. In the one called mezze rigatoni, chickpeas, pork sausage, and broccolini ($28) — two items tossed with the stunted groovy tubes were common southern Italian ingredients. The garbanzos are less common, a brilliant addition that added a creamy texture, making the rough chunks of pork sausage somehow seem more special.
The first two courses were hard acts to follow, but the third surpassed expectations. The choice was once again limited to scallops with farro risotto in salsa verde, flank steak with gorgonzola butter, and chicken fra diavolo, all priced in the mid-$40s. It being a blustery evening, the comfort bird won the day. Nothing too unusual about it: plump moist flesh, crisp skin rubbed with spices that didn’t interfere with the fresh poultry taste, a scatter of caramelized Brussels sprouts. The half bird easily fed both of us.
For dessert we picked a panna cotta flecked with vanilla beans in a pool of fruit preserves ($12). Perfect in conception, but slightly lacking in execution, it was too salty, though salty is now a thing in desserts. This was not as enthralling as the other courses.
The modest wine list offers seven by the glass, all but one Italian and all a little unusual. But why not go for one of the non-alcoholic concocted drinks? We particularly enjoyed the house soda ($7), with earl grey tea, cinnamon, and lemon. The bubbles were every bit as festive as Champagne.