Last night, Empanada Boy and I joined our friends Bass Drum Crumb and Curly Fries at the new Park Slope location of Fornino, a restaurant and pizzeria that has already made a name for itself in Williamsburg. I had read about the fantastic Neapolitan-style pies at the first location and saw the mouthwatering pictures of them on the restaurant’s website. A great Williamsburg foodie attraction had made its way to the less hipster ‘hood of Park Slope! This was worth a celebratory cheer and a visit. What I didn’t know was that Chef Michael Ayoub had decided not to build the requisite wood-fired pizza oven at his Park Slope spot. Instead, he opted to grill his pies and serve a bunch of other Italian pastas and more elegant fare. I didn’t realize this shift until our pizza arrived at the table. (The menu for the Park Slope location is not on the website, but I eventually found it here.) I was disappointed not to be eating the chewy bubbly crust of the Neapolitan-style pizza I had been craving, but the company was great and the grilled pizza had its merits, which I will be discussing below.
We started with two tasty antipasti: eggplant caponata and a salad made with radicchio, peaches and goat cheese. The caponata had a nice balance of sweetness from the roasted eggplant and saltiness from black olives that were blended in. It came with a nice herbed focaccia that had just the right chew (a true rarity, in my experience). The salad was vibrant and beautiful in its color contrasts. My only complaint was that the dressing was a little too mild. A bolder, tangier dressing could have set off the sweetness of the peach wedges nicely. Next came our pizzas. We ordered the Funghi Misti with wild mushrooms taleggio and white truffle oil and another one called the Calabrese, made with tomato, fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) and a spicy pepperoni called caciatorini a diavolo. The crust on these was quite thin and almost cracker-like at the edges. It had good flavor with a hint of smokiness, but none of the blackened, bubbly pockets that come from an oven. The mushrooms on the first pizza had strong flavors of their own, but didn’t seem to have been seasoned enough while being cooked. One variety of darker color mushrooms dominated the others. But the flavors that won the fight for dominance in this dish was definitely the white truffle oil. I could have done with less of it.
Instead of the Calabrese, our server ended up bringing us the Pizza Vinny Scotto. This one had all the ingredients of the Calabrese, but added bel paese (a semi-soft Italian cheese), pecorino, ricotta and a bell pepper aioli. Crumb had been hesitant to order this one because he wasn’t into big clumps of ricotta, but the clumps turned out to be fairly small we decided to keep it when it came. Perhaps we made a mistake, though, because there seemed to be too many ingredients on this pizza. The sheer number of cheese alone was enough to create a conflicting flavor profile that didn’t successfully highlight the quality of any single one of them. The best part of this pizza was the caciatorini. It was hot and well-spiced and not as greasy as the generic pepperoni found on so many pies.
Speaking of ricotta, this cheese also featured prominently in the cheesecake topped with strawberries that we ordered as one of our desserts. I am not a fan of American-style dense cheesecakes, but this one had a pleasant lightness to it, and it was not too sweet. The fresh strawberries made for beautiful color contrast and added seasonal freshness.
Our second dessert was a torta di limone, a cake with a thin crust of brown around the exterior and and moist, but light, lemony interior. This was a great dessert and one I would like to try making at home. Curly Fries and I had enough to drink between the two bottles of Italian wine we ordered as a table and the glass of white she ordered for herself, but EB and Crumb wanted to keep the party flowing…I mean going. They each ordered a glass of grappa from the fairly lengthy list. EB’s ended up being smoother than Crumbs, which was more like a whiskey in its smokiness. Both were quite strong, but the Italians believe they aid the digestion, and I’m not inclined to argue with centuries of tradition.
In the end, the pizza was good but not great. The ingredients were nice and the restaurant itself was pleasant, but I had really been looking forward to that Neapolitan crust. Maybe it was just a question of managing expectations.
Fornino Park Slope
256 5th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11215