In 1993, before his celebrity on the Food Network, Mario Batali opened Pó, a small trattoria in Manhattan's West Village. Despite the founding chef's departure seven years later, the Cornelia Street eatery continued to thrive. Following the success of the original, Pó Brooklyn was launched in 2007 and has been on my radar ever since. A friend's recommendation, nay, insistence, compelled me to try the Smith Street edition during Dine-In Brooklyn 2009.
It was rainy and raw the day of my visit. Mother Nature did little to brighten the dim interior, which my Comestaccomplice called soigné. Nevertheless, the white table linen lightened the dark and cozy dining room while adding a touch of elegance to the casual setting. The service was consistent with the ambiance—very accommodating without being intrusive.
The restaurant week menu choices were considerable, comprising four starters, five main courses, and three desserts. Worthy representatives from the regular menu, including vegetarian options, were selected judiciously. In general, gustatory ratings for promotional prix-fixe specials range from tolerable to very good. The cucina of Pó Brooklyn raises the bar, however—my meal was excellent in nearly every respect. Lacking any hint of mass production, each dish looked and tasted as though Chef Lee McGrath had prepared it especially for me. This trattoria represents one of the best values I've encountered during Dine-In Brooklyn—not necessarily in quantity, but in quality. It's hard to imagine a better $23 dinner anywhere.
Our meal began with a complimentary (normally $2) White Bean Bruschetta. The combination of canellini beans, olive oil, herbs and spices (including hot red pepper flakes, the sine qua non of Batali dishes) provided a pleasant deviation from common tomato-based toppings. Receiving a corresponding recipe card with our snack added an ingratiating touch. We were off to a propitious start.
My Cured Tuna antipasto yielded a bit of a surprise: the blend of tuna, canellini beans, sliced artichokes, and red onion atop a bed of frisée—all amid a chili-mint vinaigrette—gave every indication of being an insalata. Regardless of its name, however, the successful union of ingredients resulted in an uncomplicated, yet excellent, starter.
My secondo piatto, unlike my "antipasto," was much as I had envisioned it to be. The Cider-Brined Grilled Pork Tenderloin with braised cabbage and apple mostarda combined elements in a manner akin to reuniting old chums. Though well-prepared and beautifully presented, this dish took no risks and demonstrated little desire to stray from anyone's comfort zone. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, because it was tasty. But in the company of more inspired offerings, the pork tenderloin was bit trite.
I realized I could have chosen a better main course upon sampling my Comestaccomplice's Grilled Guinea Hen. It was a masterpiece that united simplicity with exquisite flavors. Grilled and seasoned to a dark perfection, the bird was served atop pumpkin-and-scallion fregula (pearl-shaped pasta) and encircled by a ring of olive oil and saba (Italian grape syrup). This was the pièce de résistance of the evening—a veritable symphony of flavors. The succulent hen, with its masterly preparation, provided incentive enough for me to become a regular here.
Finally, the dolce did not disappoint. My Dark Chocolate Terrine (amaretti Sorrano, Vin Santo, and espresso-caramel sauce) tasted every bit as good as it looked and left me with a sort of cacao "high." It provided a sweet ending to a marvelous meal that didn't make me Po'. This was a delightful meal, from start to finish. But then, alas, it was back into the rain for me …
276 Smith Street (between Degraw & Sackett Sts), Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
By train: F,G to Carroll Street
(exit at President St)
By bus: B71, B75