Photos by Lauren DeFilippo
One of the great misconceptions that people often have is that I've eaten at all the restaurants in my neighborhood. The truth is, if I'm near home, I'm usually cooking. Moreover, something nearby is no more likely of an edible destination than others, as I've never been shy about traveling far and wide for the perfect bite.
That said, moving to South Brooklyn has opened the flood gates to an entirely new world of local eats. Though I still spend a hefty chunk of my paycheck on groceries at the Coop, the unique culture of small business in this borough has inspired me to spend more time outside my kitchen. And so it was that on a recent weekend I arrived at Al Di Là.
Now, eating Italian food in restaurants is a tricky thing. Raised on la cucina della nonna, I typically opt to explore more obscure cuisines on my restaurant outings. To boot, if I'm dining with the discriminating palates of my parents and sister, the bar for a "pasta joint" is set pretty high. But as I've eaten in more and more of the excellent Italian establishments in NYC, I've come to appreciate the perfection of truly al dente pasta or the difference between everyday minestrone and a masterpiece.
In this ever-crowded genre of restaurant fare, Al Di Là inches ahead with grace and little fanfare. The dining room is a quirky spin on bistro chic, with a red/maroon and gold aesthetic that repeats in the wall paper, curtains and painted-to-look-vintage tin ceiling. The dishes echo this unassuming - yet distinctive - charm, with slight details that consistently offer something more than expected.
A mild mandolined salad of white winter vegetables was refreshing, elegant and crisp. The soup of the day contained everything but the kitchen sink, and yet achieved a refined balance - in particular, the contrast of bright, just-wilted greens with the slow-built flavors of meat stock. The pastas, too, were an upgrade on the classics. The carbonara tasted distinctly grown-up, with pronounced, lingering notes of white wine and far-superior-to-your-average bacon. An indescribably delicious cavatelli with cauliflower ragu had me bartering "a-bite-for-a-bite" so often that I surely ate half of my sister's plate.
These are the meals that inspire me as a cook. The dishes that remind me that ingredients, timing and the tiniest dash of creativity are the difference between great and phenomenal. The days where we laugh ourselves silly, sopping up every last bit of sauce with our bread. The ones where we walk out of the restaurant not stuffed, but satisfied - knowing we've truly shared a meal.
Al Di Là
248 5th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215