Photo Hong-An Tran
“We do have a special soup—cauliflower—and it’s delicious, but today it might be a bit...” Our ponytailed server paused and wrinkled her nose, searching for the right word: “punishing.” With the Fahrenheit blazing into the high 90s and a haze of heat rising from the open kitchen into Bar Corvo’s narrow seating area, the air conditioning didn’t really stand a chance. Sweating into an icy Aperol spritz and a Molly Ringwald (a St. Germain-gin-rosé cocktail that’s pretty in pink), we settled on a cold, crisp and juicy Grüner Veltliner. (All wines are priced at $29 per bottle or $7.50 by the glass.)
Despite the heat, the kitchen churned out hefty pork chops nestled in polenta, and if the polenta is anything like the stuff served at Bar Corvo’s big sister spot, Al Di La, it’s the richest, creamiest thing you can imagine. On this dog day of summer, we opted for lighter fare. Salty-spicy crunchiness bloomed in each bite of the lightly battered and fried chickpeas ($4). Fennel and lemon rounds graced the fritto misto plate ($10), each bite of fresh vegetable and airy batter made ethereal by a tart and garlicky lemon aioli. The market salad ($9), bright with radishes and sugar snap peas, made a fine first course, but it was outshined by the cauliflower ($8), which was cut into a thick steak-like wedge, seared to a perfect char, crispy on the outside and fork-tender within, and seasoned with fried capers and salsa verde. The chitarra neri ($16), a twirl of inky pasta tangled with tender octopus confit, bright lemon juice, a generous kick of hot red pepper and cooling mint leaves, brought the taste of a rustic Italian beach town to the not-really-so-mean-anymore streets of Crown Heights. The big-flavored small plates would make a perfect finish to a walk around the Brooklyn Museum or Brooklyn Botanic Garden, both of which are about a block away.
Still, the most refreshing part of this Italian comfort food joint wasn’t the first cool bite of crème fraiche panna cotta (served in a little glass with blueberries and buttery cornmeal cookies, $6), but the friendly spirit of the staff. As we gazed into the canopied backyard at a curly-haired toddler who appeared to be taking a bite out of a large braised leek, our waitress whispered with approval, “I’ve seen that kid eat some crazy stuff.” And when we reconvened at the bar near the front door, where one might sip an after-dinner drink and cast a sidelong glance at the handsomely sweaty kitchen staff, a bartender with tattoos peeking out from his collar and shirtsleeves admitted to watching many hours of Bones as the balm to a bad break-up. Paired with cozy fare, these small, shared comforts will keep this little kitchen busy all year round.