Crown Heights's main drag, Franklin Avenue, has completely transformed over the past few years, its bodegas and dollar stores closing and reemerging as, variously, yoga studios, burger joints, and coffee shops. Some of these changes have been for the better—I'm looking at you, Crown Inn and Mayfield—but in other instances, these new businesses tailored to fit the perceived needs of the neighborhood's newest wave of residents are more about show than substance.
Cent'Anni, an Italian trattoria that opened over the summer, certainly plays the part: it's stylish and dimly lit, and it offers the now-standard menu of complicated-sounding and overpriced craft cocktails. The restaurant's motto is "handmade and slow-cooked," the former term referring to Cent'Anni's pasta and the latter to its daily selection of sauces.
Those sauces were my first clue that Cent'Anni was more about sounding good than tasting good. Pesto, butter and sage, and lemon advertised on the blackboard would suffer greatly if slow cooked. But the slogan does have a nice ring to it.
First up was a so-called Roasted Beet Salad ($8), a mound of the red root veggies piled atop arugula and showered with ricotta salata. There's a nice dressing and good seasoning going on here, but soggy beets water it all down.
The one bright spot in an otherwise dubious meal was a pitch-perfect White Bean Crostini ($3), a silky, garlicky bean spread atop excellent crusty rustic bread. Tiled with salty slabs of Parmesan cheese and drizzled with fruity olive oil, this was an appetizer more than worth its gentle price tag.
Unfortunately, it was hard to savor that crostini as Cent'Anni's staff appeared to want to rush my dining companion and me out of the restaurant: our pastas arrived within minutes of our appetizers, and since we wanted to eat our pasta while it was still hot, we basically had to abandon our starters. A special of Butternut Squash Ravioli ($18) held promise: the thin pockets of pasta dough had excellent texture, but were brought down by a too-salty potato filling that seemed to totally lack squash and a strangely thick, gummy butter-sage sauce that deviated from the simple (and irresistible) classic Italian condiment.
Orecchiette with Arugula-Pistachio Pesto ($11) also looked good, the little pasta pockets slicked with a vibrant, emerald-green sauce that while not presumably slow-cooked was executed well and had great flavor. Unfortunately, the nicely-cooked pasta was way overdressed, nearly drowning in an amount of pesto that was probably twice what it needed. Chunks of potatoes were undercooked while sections of green beans were overcooked, and both vegetables lacked salt.
Everyone loves a plate of great homemade pasta, and I don't doubt that Cent'Anni is trying to appeal to its diners' palates. But just because pasta is homemade it doesn't mean it's great, and Cent'Anni needs to pay a little bit more attention to the execution of its delicious-sounding dishes.
About the author: Lauren Rothman once interned at Serious Eats and recently graduated from journalism school. Try the original recipes on her blog, For the Love of Food, and check out her (many) food photos on Instagram.