284 Third Avenue, Gowanus
Behind a frosted-glass storefront on Third Avenue, the Pines is dim, like a forest at dusk. Next door at Littleneck, the seafood spot with which this eatery shares owners, the cooks might be humming along to the Grateful Dead as they tenderly stuff lobster rolls, but this new meat-driven joint is a different animal. The open kitchen here exposes Chef Angelo Romano’s furrowed brow, thick beard and backward baseball cap as he spins out dishes to the heavy, sensual beats of Portishead or Madvillain’s dense rhymes and buttery flow. Flavors are bigger and brawnier here, unexpected but unfussy. The first item on the menu, simply listed as “BREAD,” sets the tone. A large helping of blisteringly hot, crunchy, crusty hunks of yeasty filone (Italian peasant’s bread) and woodsy seeded-wheat are seared-to-order. The generous, hand-torn portion looks like something that might’ve been served to Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride. The accompanying caraway butter melts on contact. They should probably call it “TOAST.”
One thing the Pines has in common with its big-sister seafood restaurant is the impeccable freshness of the ingredients served, which can come as a surprise when you’ve just passed through the fog of swamp stank that swirls around the Gowanus Canal. A wedge of lettuce and a handful of feathery frisée are crisp as a mountain stream, kissed with dill and sprinkled with airy, crunchy bits of guanciale (like pork-flavored mini-croutons). A pool of creamy dressing gives the salad ($12) richness and heft. In another first course, fresh sliced apples, picked at their honeyed peak, are coated with a sheen of tangy sheep’s milk cheese, then topped with black sesame seeds and mellow hibiscus leaves ($10). In a heartier entrée, golden gooseberries bring mouth-puckering tartness to a dish that balances sweet, juicy cubes of pink pork shoulder with crisp-tender baby turnips, crunchy macadamia nuts, and a drizzle of rich, yolky sauce ($21). Some of the turnips still have a long, stringy root or two attached—which may take the whole man-of-the-earth aesthetic one step too far—but the tart-juicy-earthy-crunchy-rich combination of flavors makes for a crave-worthy dish.
The short menu mostly consists of artistically plated, easy-to-share options, but there are some surprises, too. A very al dente bowl of pici (fat, hand-rolled noodles) in a porky ragu ($18) is total Italian Grandma Fare, and their house-made lemon verbena digestif is sparkling, ladylike, and lovely. We hit the Pines before they started offering complimentary s’mores, roasted over a campfire in their leafy backyard, so we didn’t know what we were missing as we happily sipped our after-dinner drinks indoors and the hip-hop mix gave way to “Purple Rain.”
Photo Jessica Nash