248 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope
Phone: 718-783-4565, (Closed on Tuesdays)
Price Range: $35-60
Brooklyn’s best neighborhood restaurants set their own standards for romantic dining. At Park Slope’s friendly Venetian spot, Al Di La, closely packed tables dissolve the opportunity for private conversation, and the grandmotherly patterned china could put a damper on the place’s sex appeal. The paint on the ceilings is worn and chipped, and the gigantic chandelier is artfully gaudy. The husband and wife co-owners (she’s the cook; he’s the host) don’t take reservations, and visitors are often shepherded to a wine bar around the corner (Al Di La Vino) until a table becomes available. Still, this remains a favorite spot for special dinners because so many young outer-borough couples fell in love with the city and each other at big-hearted restaurants like this one.
My dining companion and I split an affordable bottle of wine — a perfumy and spicy Nebbiolo d’Alba ($36) recommended by our soft-spoken server. We also heed her advice to try the strange-sounding but delicious, creamy, and garlicky Salt Cod Mousse ($8.50), which we spread over warm grilled polenta. We reach across our tiny table for bites of each other’s grilled whole Branzino ($20), flaky and redolent of its stuffing of lemon rounds and thyme sprigs; and perfectly al dente Fresh Pasta ($16), rolled around a puree of sweet corn and mascarpone cheese, topped with grated parmesan and black truffle butter. The seasonal menu is altered daily, and we’ll be back in the fall for even richer entrees — like their much-lauded braised rabbit, pork saltimbocca with sage and prosciutto, and made-to-order risotto.
We choose our dessert based on the moans of the silver-haired ladies beside us who ordered it first — delectably moist Lemon Bundt Cake ($6), served alongside figs poached in white wine. When the pair leaves, the drummer from our friend’s band happens to slide into their spot — Brooklyn is a small world, after all — and introduces us to his sweet and lovely groupie-turned-girlfriend. We can tell that things are working out between them when they launch into an explanation of their Trifecta of Happiness Theory: They’ve come to the conclusion that all you really need for guaranteed contentment is food, music, and sex. In a more spacious restaurant, we wouldn’t have been privy to this philosophy, and we agree that Al Di La will bring you (at least) a third of the way there.