291 Grand (between Havemeyer and Roebling), Williamsburg
Tapas, $4-12; entrees, $14-32; wines, $20 and up; desserts, $5-7; daily specials.
Credit cards accepted
The trick to Mediterranean cooking, says one of the Rail’s many gourmands, involves taking the freshest ingredients and soaking them in savory marinades. Under Chef Diego Gonzalez, many of the tapas at Allioli have now reached that desired state of seasoned and grilled bliss. That all of the offerings have increasingly grown tastier over the course of the restaurant’s 18 months in existence is in some ways frightening—i.e., what comes after bliss?
Your meal can both begin and end with the tapas, if a Latin smorgasbord suits your fancy. Any one of the three following fish dishes should grace your table; Sardinas Portuguesas (sardines), Chipirones (baby calamari), and/or the Ensalada de pulpito (baby octopus salad). All three are grilled perfectly, and the tenderness of both the calamari and octopus show what simple garlic and oil marinades can do. Two of the meat offerings, the Chorizo al Diablo ( a devil’s chorizo, indeed) and the Montaditos de Solomillo (a ravishing combination of artichokes, Manchego, and thin strips of filet mignon over toasts), also must be considered. To mix your fruits and meats, try the scrumptious Dados en Serrano (dates wrapped in Serrano ham and fried). Of the somewhat limited offerings of greens, the Ensalada de cabrales (frisse salad with roasted walnuts and Asturian Blue Cheese) is highly recommended. In fact, of all the tapas, the only one that causes dissension in our ranks is the Galician (pie-style) Empanada—but only because the Chileans on our staff feel passionately that there’s only one way to make empanadas.
With the selection of entrees soon to change with the summer menu, they may yet match the quality of the tapas. One of the carry-overs from the winter to summer menus, the Chuletas de cordero (lamb chops), is delicious, though. Served with a frittata-style potato tart and grilled asparagus, the meat on the chops simply slides from the bones. Based on the winter version, Arroz caldoso (saffron rice with seafood), the rotating summer paellas also promise to be something to look out for. Of the wines, the Riojas are the most distinguished—both the Montecillo and the Paternina Banda Azul-97 are sure things. For the summer, the sangria will be the white, a tasty blend made with Cava (Spanish Champagne). As for dessert, we’re only able to recommend one, but that’s because it’s so good that we never try any others. Without giving away its secrets, let’s just say that the Sopresa de Chocolate (Chocolate surprise soufflé) will make you see Gaudi.
Allioli also offers a stylish and upbeat ambience, as its walls showcase fine local artwork and its small stage is often helmed by rhythmic, but not intrusive DJs (the live bands can be overwhelming, though). Friendly Philip also runs a lively bar at the restaurant’s front, while the pan-Latin waitstaff is hip but still warm and attentive. And the most pressing reason to visit the place in the next few months may be its inviting, most intimate patio: It promises an Iberian night to remember.
338 Bedford Avenue (at South 2nd Street), Williamsburg
Entrees $7-15, daily specials
Credit cards accepted, deliveries made
There is a new addition to the Latino restaurants on the Bedford Avenue “strip” on Williamsburg’s South Side, and it’s brought to us by the Broadway Diner crew. Bonita’s is a Mexican-style diner, with counter and booth seating as well as long, family-friendly tables. They don’t yet have a full bar (but are working on it), so in the meantime, try their “white wine margarita” or their red sangria, both made with wine and fruit juices.
The appetizers are solid. The corn is like you will find at any Mexican beach stand—grilled and rolled in homemade mayonnaise and covered in white cheese and chili powder. The guacamole is really good and always tastes freshly made, the secret probably owing to the fact that it doesn’t contain tomatoes. The nopalitos salad features chilled grilled cactus, beets, and greens, very lightly dressed and topped with a touch of feta cheese. Their calamari is just standard fare, as it’s blandly fried, with dipping sauces on the side. However, the lime soup is worth trying out—it’s like an upbeat chicken soup, with a touch of heat in the broth.
The entrée menu is presently somewhat limited in range, but they do have several specials nightly. Always available are the pork, chicken, steak, and fish tacos, which are simply made with fresh ingredients and topped with accompanying sauces; of the sauces, the red (picante style) doesn’t thrill, but the chipotle and green tomatillo sauces do stand out. The “half” and “whole” chickens are flavorful, grilled with a light yet tangy sauce and served with sides of red sauce and beans. Meanwhile, the Chilles Rellenos are as close as most of us have had in the States to the ones served in Mexico, and are the best entrée. They are poblano peppers stuffed with a Mexican queso that resembles a hybrid of feta and mozzarella cheeses, then pan fried and served with a generous amount of a light tomato sauce. And for vegans there are always the mushroom tacos, sautéed with peppers and onions and served with pinto beans, white rice, and tortillas on the side.
Brunch is the best feature of this place, although we are loathe to say that for fear of inviting crowds and long wait times. For the time being, it is easy to walk in as a group of six and get seated straightaway, and stay for hours without feeling rushed. They always have at least five brunch specials—we recommend the chilaquiles (tortilla chips covered in mole and topped with fried eggs and Mexican sour cream) and the huevos rancheros (tortillas and fried eggs topped with green sauce and a side of bacon). When Bonita’s isn’t crowded, the atmosphere is very chill and the wait staff is enjoyable. They all are knowledgeable about the menu and specials, and are quick to deliver the food from the open-air kitchen. Some of us wish for a little more variety on the menu and a bit more food on each plate. But all of us know that it won’t be too long before Bonita’s will be grouped in the pantheon of Williamsburg restaurants that offer fine dining without Manhattan prices.
558 Driggs Avenue (at North 7th Street), Williamsburg
Delivery/take out available
Credit cards? Of course.
Long before Williamsburg’s trendy restaurants sprouted like weeds, there were a couple of steadfast, high quality and reasonably-priced places defined by a single term: realness. Driggs Trattoria, sandwiched between a bus stop and Acqua Santa, and in the warm back room of one of the city’s better pizza parlors, serves up the kind of pasta and meat dishes that are the flipside of mall-style Italian restaurants. In other words, this ain’t your average Olive Garden variety fare. Those who appreciate quality food and a down-to-earth atmosphere will revel in the fact that the Italian language is heard from a kitchen full of amiable chefs, and than an assortment of images on the walls includes photos of figures ranging from Donald Trump and Don King, to framed soccer hunks from the Old Country.
And the food? The penne with vodka sauce is the best around, the manicotti light with a tender texture, the meat specials are rich and plentiful and the cavatelli is a delicious pasta that is hard to find on most menus. All the pasta is done in the light al dente style of real Italian cuisine, the bread comes out warm and the nice house red is served chilled. A little more than $20 will get you an appetizer, entrée, and a glass of wine, and now they even take credit cards. Our only regret is that some of the specials seem to go off the menu: hey guys, please bring back the pasta “vegetariana,” a great dish with pink sauce and asparagus, artichokes, spinach, and mushroom! Also, rumor has it that a renovation is planned. If that’s the case, we hope that the Trattoria doesn’t lose what makes it so special: it non-trendy feeling of reality.
4.5 stars (5 if they bring back “vegetariana”)
Tofu on 7th
226 7th Avenue (Between 3rd & 4th Streets), Park Slope
Open seven days, free delivery in the neighborhood
Credit cards accepted
Some of us have been eating here two or three times a month for the last three years and the one thing that always keeps us coming back for more is the moo shu pork. In fact, when we enter this rather modest Chinese restaurant we are seated by a friendly waitress and she doesn’t even bother with the menu, “Moo shu?” she inquires with just the right hint of sarcasm, pulling at the smile on the corners of her mouth; to which we nod, “Yes, please.” Although it’s been said that Eggs Benedict is the ideal cure for a hangover (which may be true), you cannot find decent Eggs Benedict in Park Slope, and the closest place is Juniors, all the way up Flatbush. That is much too long of a trek with a hangover, though, which is why some of us often call this place home.
Tofu on 7th also has a vast array of vegetarian dishes (hence the name) and a good place to start would be the steamed vegetable wontons with sesame sauce. Their flavorful filling consists mostly of shredded leeks and it harmonizes perfectly with the sesame. The spinach vegetable dumplings are also good, and the classic standby cold sesame noodles (spinach or regular noodles) is one of the best this side of Mott Street. There are more than two dozen vegetarian chef’s specialties and all of them are prepared according to the Chinese Buddhist traditions. Of these, we most prefer the Lotus Pond: diced lotus, soy chicken (wheat gluten), snow peas, and mushrooms, all sautéed in a delicate ginger garlic sauce. If not nirvana, it will at least help you reach the state you were in prior to the night before.