Editor's Note: Please welcome Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler, of We Heart New York, who will be joining us with Date Night—a different (and not too pricey) pick each week. First up: Vutera, in Williamsburg!
Like dating itself, dinner at Vutera requires a leap of faith. This lonely stretch of Grand Street, within exhaust-huffing distance of the BQE, does not portend romance. Nor does the fact that the restaurant is in a basement (beneath the associated Rose Live Music); the steps leading down to the dining room are so dark and dank that you'll wonder if you saw them on Law & Order.
But sometimes the leap pays off: you feel a spark, you skip a beat, you find beauty in an unexpected place. Vutera embodies that thrill of incongruity. Flickering candlelight, crumbling bricks, mismatched chairs, copper lamps, battered wood, and low plank ceilings imbue it with the air of a lovers' hideout from some faded, more passionate age: for one of us, the dining room spoke of the Battle of Brooklyn and a secret refuge; for the other, Occupied France and desperate farewells.
"You won't be disappointed with anything on there," our server effused as she handed over menus. And we weren't, not really. Although the cauliflower and caper gratin ($8) sounded appealing, we opted to split a baby beets-and-walnut salad ($8), a bit grainy and overly stingy with the greens but enlivened with feta and lots of pepper.
Despite the restaurant's purported allegiance to seasonal Mediterranean cooking, the open-faced pulled pork sandwich ($11) nicely nodded to the neighborhood. A dousing of Brooklyn Lager and braising rendered the meat succulent, while a toasted bun gave the dish a welcome crunch. Most surprising, though, was the spicy cinnamon kick at the end of each bite. Alas, the undressed arugula side salad was almost inedibly cold, and the pickled carrot slaw would likewise have benefited from a few minutes over a flame or even a pop into the microwave.
An intense Meyer lemon tapenade enhanced the reticent flavor of the lightly seared dorade ($18); spreading it onto the fish will give you an activity should an awkward silence descend on your table. We loved the olives playfully hiding amidst the moist, ever-so-slightly mashed potatoes.
For dessert, linger over cannoli stuffed with Salvatore BKLYN ricotta and topped with strawberry and Meyer lemon preserves ($9). Or another quartino from the carefully curated wine collection, housed in an appealing nook of the dining room. Those with post-prandial plans will appreciate the 2-course prix fixe ($15.99), from 6 to 7 pm, Sunday through Thursday. Note too that bottles of wine are half-off every Monday and Tuesday.
With its easygoing seasonality and surprising romance, Vutera is best for: a date you want to impress with your insider knowledge.