Date Night: Neighborhood Elegance (and Very Good Meatballs) at AlMar in Dumbo
With the exception of some major intersections and a few extremely low-lit streets, Dumbo seems an ideal place to raise a family. In just a few blocks, there are several great parks, a well-stocked candy store, and restaurants like AlMar, made for a quick bite with your sweetie before you have to relieve the babysitter, or a longer winey evening to celebrate or catch up with friends. Other guests tied their dogs up outside, greeted the waitstaff, and plopped down at a favorite table with a glass of red and back issues of The New Yorker, without care or concern. This restaurant felt of the neighborhood, rather than simply in it.
On the recommendation of DumboNYC, Chowhound, Yelp, Menupages, and friends who live in the area, we tried Alfredo's meatballs in tomato sauce ($8). The rumors were true! Smothered in fresh red sauce, with lank basil leaves, the meatballs were crumbly and good, smaller than what Mom used to make.
Some say we eat with our eyes, but in truth we eat with our noses. And at AlMar we really ate with our noses. The buffalo ricotta, truffle oil and honey bruschette ($10) came piled so high, some of the layers went where smells normally go, literally up our noses, and, well, we'll spare you the rest. Enough to say that this is an appetizer for ricotta lovers, less so for those who prefer their bruschette chewy or their honey aggressive.
Of course, one measure of an Italian restaurant is its facility with pasta. So, we ordered the linguine with zucchine, arugula avocado pesto, tomato and shrimp ($16). Avocado gave the pesto a decadent fattiness, but we weren't wild about the cubed zucchini, which were hard to eat (ribbons would have been better, as well as lending a visual counterpoint to the pasta strands). Twirling it up, we gave our shirts green polka dots, but didn't care.
We didn't need wine, as the red wine-braised rabbit ($22) was thoroughly, pleasurably saturated, like some Saturday nights. Rabbits are associated with spring, but they're really a fall dish, gamey and frank. Served with a side of polenta, AlMar's version showed the restaurant's dexterity with creatures of the earth.
It's too bad Mayor Bloomberg didn't check out AlMar before preparing the proposal for New York City to hold the Olympic Games: AlMar's polished concrete space would have been perfect for a floor routine. Truly humongous mirrors further enlarge the almost austere dining area. Break one, though, and you're looking at 700 years of bad luck, rather than the usual 7. Keep your hands on your partner or on your entree, and you'll be fine. With its industrial charm and envy-inducing clientele, AlMar is best for: a date with a side of fantasy.
About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.