Just as most kitchen enthusiasts have fall-back recipes for those days when experimentation doesn’t appeal, I have a selection of comforting, reliable restaurants that I keep in steady rotation. I’ve talked about a few of them so far; one I haven’t yet mentioned is Fragole, my favorite neighborhood Italian joint.
There’s nothing fancy about this small spot, located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, but I’ve never had a bad meal here—just solid, reasonably priced, quality food.
Each meal starts with a complimentary dish of piquant tomato sauce, studded with an olive or two and served with bread for dipping. It’ll be hard, but try not to fill up on the tangy, punchy sauce and warm bread—this menu does not encourage anything but a stuffed-to-the-gills exit.
There are two appetizers that I almost always order; the first, this insalata rustica. Nothing exciting about the bed of mixed greens and so-so tomatoes—the main event is the tangle of olives, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, and imported Italian mozzarella.
Oh, that cheese. You think you’ve had fresh mozzarella, right? Let me tell you—it’s nothing like this. To be honest, I request this salad mainly for the interplay between the meltingly creamy, milky cheese, the cold, acidic tomato and the just-slightly-warm sweet peppers. The healthy, lettucey bits are practically beside the point.
I prefer to up my greens intake with the help of the second appetizer: grilled calamari on a pile of arugula. The simply flavored, charred seafood wilts the arugula ever so slightly; a squeeze of lemon makes the plate sing—and makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
For the main event, it’s hard to go wrong with the pastas, almost all of which are made in house. I’m partial to the linguine all’arrabiata with shrimp and the fettucine with lamb ragú, while the Carnivore normally sticks with the papparadelle with short-rib ragú, but on this particular outing, both of us ordered from the specials board. Above, his ravioli, stuffed with butternut squash and dressed with sage butter, were delicate and decadent all at once. I saw the portion size and feared he’d regret his choice, but thanks to our appetizers, most of the dish went straight into a takeout container anyway.
Ditto for my seafood risotto. I made a valiant effort with this heady mix of shellfish, saffron, and perfectly finished grains of rice—so good—but I soon threw in the towel and requested another to-go box. It’s taken much trial and error, many evenings that ended with distended bellies and that uncomfortable way-too-full feeling, to realize that if appetizers are on the table, a taste of the main is all that’s necessary.
However. I may have the best intentions, but with food this good and a dining room that lends itself so nicely to lingering, it’s not uncommon for that mythical “last bite” to elude me. I’m not ashamed to admit that I often find myself opening the leftovers and sneaking another forkful before heading to the subway. For fortification purposes, of course—I do take the G train, after all, and it’s a well-known fact that trains take twice as long to come when you’re waiting with an empty stomach.
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