Dining out: Buon gusto!

December 5, 2014 Helen Klein
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From the moment you enter Bella Gioia, one thing is clear – this is not your ordinary Italian restaurant.

Rather, the eight-month-old eatery, nestled on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope in a cozy location with brick walls and recycled wood tables, reinterprets traditional Sicilian dishes with a contemporary twist, reinvigorating the island’s classic comfort food with flair and style.

Chef/owner Nico Daniele explains that he envisions Bella Gioia as a restaurant that celebrates “old world Sicily,” while “pushing the boundaries. We try to take old recipes and transform them to appease the modern era.

“I love fusing old-school cooking with modern techniques,” Daniele went on. He also has a deep passion for traditional Sicilian foodstuffs that – because of the island’s location as a crossroads in the Mediterranean – are often quite different from the cuisine of mainland Italy, with flavors that include ingredients as diverse as North African spices, capers and a cornucopia of Italian cheeses.

We sampled half a dozen of the restaurant’s specialties and were awed by the flavors and presentation.

N’Zalata di Barbabietole ($12), a sophisticated salad mixing two colors of beets, clementine pieces, pea tendrils, paper thin slices of fennel and goat cheese, enhanced by sherry vinaigrette and brown butter powder, was dramatically plated – the salad arranged in a half moon along one rim of the dish with the rest of it empty. It was also delicious, with the contrast of flavors and textures awakening the palate.

Fichi D’India ($11) was another standout salad, this time combining paper thin slices of pear mounded on feathery frisee and endive and bathed in a truffle-infused balsamic vinaigrette that was simultaneously tart and sweet. It came out of the kitchen atop a hand-thrown ceramic bowl whose pale beige color played off the muted colors of the salad.

The Arancini ($9) were not your pizza place’s standard rice balls. Rather, the ovoid fritters combined an interior of dense and creamy saffron risotto and mozzarella cheese with a lightly breaded, crisp and delightful exterior, and came on a long, narrow plate with a selection of dipping sauces – a rich garlic puree, a sweet-tart balsamic reduction, hot – but not too hot – chili oil, and a zesty marinara sauce, a sampler’s delight, to be sure.

For our pasta course, we enjoyed Pappardelle cu Saissa di Agneddu ($19), fresh broad ribbons of pasta enrobed in a succulent lamb ragu, studded with cipollini and topped with shavings of primosale, a fresh Sicilian cheese that provided a counterbalance to the richness of the lamb.

Then, it was time for the main course. We sampled the Braciola di Maiale ($22), tender pork chops whose delicate flavor was enhanced by Agrodolce sauce, as sweet as it was intense. Contrast was provided by parsnip puree and toothsome roasted Brussels sprouts. This is a dish, said Daniele, inspired by the food his mother used to cook – a weekday dish transformed in Bella Gioia’s kitchen into something extraordinary.

Also delightfully tender was the Bistecca ($27), Angus strip steak served atop indulgently creamy mashed potatoes and a nest of julienned zucchini, with sweetness provided by a red wine reduction.

Finally, we shared a house-made Tiramisu ($7). The creamy finale – enhanced by fragrant cinnamon as well as the traditional espresso – was served, quite casually, in a jam jar, with slices of strawberry for garnish. It was the perfect ending to an outstanding meal.

We will be back.

209 Fourth Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11217
Tuesday to Thursday, 5:30-10 p.m.
Friday, 5-11 p.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (brunch), and 5:30-11 p.m. (dinner)
Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Monday, closed.

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