As a native Brooklynite, east Williamsburg is nearly unrecognizable these days: sure, it's still got plenty of the industrial, mostly-bare streets I remember from years ago, but it's also now home to a whole bunch of hip, trendy eating and drinking establishments, something that still surprises me pause each time I visit.
One such place that I've been wanting to try for months is Il Passatore. Now, let me clarify: the restaurant itself is a modest, brick-walled, tin-ceilinged affair serving uncomplicated Italian food. The crowd here is what makes it hip: the restaurant seems to attract good-looking diners in their 20s with a penchant for dressing fashionably.
But on to the food. Il Passatore's entire menu is tempting, with vegetarian-friendly salads and homemade pastas. Overall, the dishes I ate at the restaurant were well-conceived, nicely presented and well executed, but there was a problematic common thread running through all of them: a distinct lack of seasoning. A warm antipasti of Carciofi con Polenta ($9) displayed creativity: the quartered artichoke hearts were dredged in crunchy, toasty pistachios and served with a perfectly-textured hunk of polenta, but the entire dish cried out for salt; when I added some, the dish became quite tasty.
Likewise, a salad of Cavolini de Bruxelles ($7.50) featured bright, crispy shredded Brussels sprouts and radicchio folded with toasted walnut and plenty of grated Parmesan—but not nearly enough of the nicely-balanced lemon vinaigrette it was served with: the salad was nearly dry.
Things definitely started looking up with the arrival of the pasta course. A Lasagna Verde Vegetariana ($9.50), clearly a house favorite, as about three quarters of the tables had one, too. The lasagna featured wide, soft sheets of homemade noodles and was stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, eggplants, onions and more, and layered with a light, bright tomato sauce. This one didn't need any additional salt.
Unfortunately, a second pasta—Taglioni de Funghi e Crema di Porcini ($11)—did. Otherwise, it was spectacular: long strands of perfectly cooked pasta sauced with a rich umami-bomb of sautéed mushrooms and, I suspect, not a small amount of cream.
It's hard for me not to recommend Il Passatore: its dishes have a homey, crowd-pleasing feel to them, its service is solicitous, and the prices are more than fair. But I hope the kitchen staff finds the courage to season its food more aggressively in the future.