14 Bushwick Ave. (betw. Metropolitan Ave. & Devoe St.)
I was seated at a long table at Il Passatore at a birthday party for a charming little package of a lady who was turning 28 but looked half that. The trattoria—with brick walls, pressed-tin-ceilings and no liquor license yet—was also tiny. In Italian country-style, however, the dinner portions were not and the room was a warm refuge from truly nasty weather outside.
Two gentlemen from Emilia-Romagna, a region abutting Tuscany, opened Passatore a little more than a month ago, and named it after a famous local scoundrel-cum-Robin Hood figure from the 1800s.
One wonders if, at the time when this bandit mounted the stage at the Teatro Verdi bearing arms and demanding the audiences’ valuables, he could have possibly conceived that this act and other mayhem would cause his mug to grace menus one day in a faraway land. It goes to show: It’s hard to know which deeds will bring one lasting fame.
As part of Passatore’s Northern Italian fare it offers two unusual-for-Brooklyn (but somewhat similar) primis using thin, tortilla-like bleached-flour flatbread. The Piadina Formaggio e Reculo ($6) was two layers of hot charcoal-heated flatbread sandwiching mixed fresh arugula and soft, white stracchino cheese. The Crescione al Pomodoro e Mozzarella ($7) uses the same type of flatbread but in this case the tomato and cheese is baked inside. For perhaps more familiar points of comparison, the difference between theses two dishes is that of the taco and the pupusa.
The piadina was enjoyable in its freshness and greenness but a bit dry, what with just dough, leaves and cheese. It could have worked nicely with a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The cresicione did not have that problem and it was a solid pizza replacement.
The Rucula con Pere e Parmigiano ($6) salad was an interesting countering of textures with its alternating pear and parmesan slices, but the creamy lemon dressing on top seemed an intruder. Again, I would have preferred balsamic (I could have had the most amazing meal at this place had they said BYO balsamic as they did with the wine).
The other people at my table raved about the Gnocchi Burro e Salvia ($8), which weren’t really gnocchi at all but were rather gnudi, or little flour dumplings—in this case, with spinach and ricotta—that don’t involve potato at all. They were light and soft and they sat in, but did not soak up, the butter and sage sauce.
The Lasagna Vegetariana ($8) came as a small square of red and white layers, and was refreshingly made with lots of vegetables including broccoli, carrots, asparagus and also a real béchamel instead of cheese. I hate it when lasagna becomes a highrise of starch and dairy, and the architect here showed a much subtler and finer composition of textures and flavors than that.
Seated across from me was the fellow Whorebivore whom we all call Papa Fagiole, and everyone’s favorite redhead, Kitty Jones (they just got engaged). He is an avid meateater who has cured his own bacon. She, on the other hand, has been a vegetarian for most her life.
And so their conversation confused us.
“Your chicken looks dry,” said Kitty.
“How do you know?” said Papa.
“They should have brined it first and baked it further from the flame,” she said.
“But you haven’t eaten meat in almost 20 years. You won’t even wash dishes that have touched the stuff,” said Papa.
“Doesn’t matter. I know dry chicken when I see it,” said Kitty.
Perhaps we humans naturally possess the ability to sense qualities in meat just from years of sucking our wounds and biting our lips and putting each others bodies into our mouths.
The exchange between Papa and Kitty also made me wonder what vegetarians think when they sniff that amazing come-hither aroma that is like a siren call of smells beckoning from the rotisserie racks of places like El Malecon on 175th and Broadway. Or what they think when they walk into someone’s home who has been warming pot roast and leeks in a slow cooker. Does it not make them hungry, too? Yes, I think, it does.
But why would it? And what implications does this seemingly natural appeal have for the morality of meateating?
Then again, how delicious is antifreeze? Enough to kill someone.