222 DeKalb Ave, Fort Greene
3 out of 5 L's
If you have yet to visit Dino, a toddler-aged Italian restaurant in Fort Greene, now’s the time to go. The weather is just warm enough to enjoy the backyard, which doubles the size of the slim, snug space. And there are still enough cool evenings left to enjoy their warm and comforting offerings, like rigatoni topped with a hearty, slow-cooked ragu of sausage and meatballs, plus a dollop of fresh ricotta ($15), or their juicy and crisp-skinned organic chicken, roasted with rosemary and served with buttery parmesan polenta and garlicky sautéed kale ($16).
As at most mom-and-pop Italian spots, the menu here isn’t terribly adventurous—think eggplant parm ($15), Italian-style meatloaf and mashed potatoes ($16), and penne with tomato sauce, basil and mozzarella ($12)—but they do the basics well, along with some very pleasant surprises. The humble escarole salad ($13.50) makes an unexpected favorite dish, but Dino’s version is packed with flavor: sweetness from roasted butternut squash, bright bursts of bitter acidity from pickled caperberries, and richness from salty, crispy bits of pan-fried prosciutto. Dino’s take on the Caesar salad ($11) is worth trying, too. It’s perked up by an extra-lemony dressing, house-made croutons and fresh kale. The place has a full bar with a selection of house cocktails, including a Dark & Stormy with a floater of Sixpoint Sweet Action. We wouldn’t normally recommend dumping some beer in a classic cocktail, but in a drink where the combination of rum and ginger beer can get a bit cloying, the local cream ale adds a hint of crispness and extra fizz. There’s also a solid and mostly Italian wine list, with glasses priced from $8 to $11.
In many of the dishes and drinks, you can taste the love of the husband-and-wife owners, who named the place for their little son, Dino. But on our most recent visit, the server wasn’t quite that enthusiastic, rattling off the specials and offering a perplexed look when we asked about the butternut squash lasagna. “It’s lasagna, but with butternut squash,” he said, implying an unspoken “duh.” Upon more prodding, he told us that it was made with red sauce, without meat, and that sure, it was probably good. It was actually made with a creamy béchamel sauce and was packed with fresh spinach and basil. It deserved more hype, as it was among the most delicious vegetable lasagnas we’d ever tasted. The season for lasagna is waning, but we’ll be back to Dino for a backyard brunch—their pancetta, pecorino, sage and potato frittata under the morning sun seems like the perfect way to welcome the warmer weather.