The Vegetarian Option: Al Di Là
Al Di La
430 248 5th Avenue, Brooklyn (at Carroll St; map); (718) 636-8888; aldilatrattoria.com
Cuisine: Northern Italian
Setting: Stylishly rustic
Veggie Options: Two salads and three pastas
Cost: About $35 per person, excluding drinks
To eat in Venice (unless you are extremely lucky), you'll need to wait at the airport, wait for your plane to take off, and sit on the plane for quite a few hours. To eat at Park Slope's Venetian trattoria Al Di Là, on the other hand, you just have to keep yourself busy until a table opens up. They don't take reservations, though they will take your digits and let you know when there's room.
Classic Northern Italian dishes like braised rabbit, squid-ink risotto, and calf's liver fill the menu of this cozy Brooklyn spot, but there are a few perfectly delicious choices for vegetarians as well.
The salads vary by season; on our visit we enjoyed a warm Insalata di Farro ($11, pictured above) dotted with goat cheese, roasted squash, and cauliflower. Kale ribbons and goat cheese add earthy notes and a bit of tang, while hazelnuts echo the perfectly-cooked farro's inherent nuttiness. It was satisfying and substantial; exactly what we want a vegetarian dish to be.
The white vegetable salad ($10) was fresh and light, comprised of thinly sliced cauliflower, Jerusalem artichokes, fennel, and other root vegetables. While we wouldn't recommend it to those who don't like raw veg, we enjoyed the crunchy texture and peppery vinaigrette.
Want to indulge a little? Then go for the pasta—handmade tortelli filled with sheep's milk ricotta ($16) are luxuriously sauced in butter and a shower of cheese, though we weren't sure the filling really needed the addition of truffle.
Even better—perhaps the best dish we tried—are the swiss chard malfatti ($15). They're velvety smooth and tender with plenty of fresh green flavor. The fried sage and brown butter sauce raises this dish up even higher—you might have spotted us greedily using our bread to mop up every last drop. We don't regret it for a minute.
Not that we needed more butter, but the poppyseed-speckled beet casunziei ($12) arrived with plenty of it just in case. The half-moon ravioli are rich and slightly sweet from the vivid red beet filling, and the pasta is delicate and just firm enough.
While the dishes we tried were all pretty small—the pastas are meant to be primi, after all—they were rich and beautifully made. The bill can add up, especially if you give in to temptation and order an extra plate or two of those amazing malfatti, but the setting is charming enough for a date or a special occasion, and the classic, delicious food is certainly worth the wait.