Carroll Gardens is a strange neighborhood for Manhattanites: the blocks packed with residences and a few businesses, many of which close before 10pm, feels more suburban than New York, but for those willing to make the trek (or perhaps just walk over from bustling Brooklyn neighborhoods), Carroll Gardens is home to many culinary gems.
Marco Polo Ristorante opened in 1983, serving upscale Italian cuisine, from seafood to fresh pastas, in a formal dining room decked out with white tableclothes, a full-size wooden bar, and a piano.
In 2013, the restaurant is revamped with a hipper, more modern vibe, while still keeping some of the old-school Italian recipes (and the white tableclothes!).
Casual New Yorkers need not fear: jeans and sandals are more than welcome in this chill establishment, but tuxes and ballgowns could just as easily suit the black-and-white photos of Venice (the explorer Marco Polo himself was Venetian) posted prominently on Marco Polo's dining room walls. The restaurant is bright and warm: welcoming enough for a large multi-generational family dinner but cozy enough for a date. The balance is a near impossible feat in the hospitality community, but Italian-born father and Brooklynite son, Joseph and Marco Chirico, have created an Italian eatery unlike any other.
With such a lovely ambiance, you can expect that the food represents its surroundings. The menu combines traditional dishes, still using recipes created at the restaurant in 1983, such as a rich Caesar Salad, creamy Oysters Rockefeller, and a large and hearty Carre’ D’Agnello rack of lamb, but Marco also revives old classics with a modern vibe.
The menu rotates seasonally, and the menu for the cold weather has plenty of warming, tasty options.
Start your meal with the surprisingly light Carciofi fritti ($11.95), which features quarters of imported artichokes fried and drizzled with aioli dipping sauce. The ricotta e portobello ($11.95) has a portobello top breaded and baked with ricotta, served over a basil smoked cherry tomato panzanella sauce, a warm version of the salad for the cold weather.
Besides having a fantastic name, the Zuppa di Zucca is a fantastically flavored pumpkin soup, served with chives and croutons flouting atop its orange broth, this soup is much more savory and light than your traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin dish ($9.95).
You can't go to Marco Polo without ordering the Fettuccine Al Vino Rosso ($18.95). The thin, homemade red wine fettucine is cooked tableside and tossed in an enormous, fresh-shaved parmigiano wheel before being doled out on your plate. The simple yet tasty dish has a rustic and homey feel to it, and the performance before plating is certainly entertaining.
For main courses, choose between a variety of seafood and meat dishesl, including the traditional, Zuppa di Pesce con Linguine ($29.95), a medley of fresh seafood including salmon, shrimp, clams, mussels, and calamari tossed in a light tomato broth, warming and delicious in everyway. For true carnivores, Veal Chop Au Jus ($34.95) is served over a version of Uccelletto made with large corona beans, cherry tomatoes, and fresh rosemary.
Portions at Marco Polo are generous, almost always necessitating a doggy bag, but be sure to leave room for dessert. The homemade gelati are rich and smooth, the strawberry tasting like an enhanced version of the fruit itself.
Visit Marco Polo Ristorante for incredible homemade pastas, gracious Italian hospitality, and, of course, the full-size bar.