Note: Jason Neroni and the owner of Porchetta had a nasty split in April 2007, and the restaurant closed, re-opening as Carniceria, a Latin American steakhouse helmed by Alex Garcia of Calle Ocho and Gaucho Steak Co. fame. That restaurant didn’t last long, closing in September 2007.
It seems like forever ago (more like seven years) that Wylie Dufresne pioneered the Lower East Side restaurant revolution at 71 Clinton Fresh Food. Dufresne left 71 Clinton to open the ground-breaking WD-50. 71 Clinton drifted for a while, until Jason Neroni took over in March 2004. Many were smitten, including Frank Bruni, who awarded two stars. I was was not.
A year later, Florence Fabricant reported in the Times that Neroni was leaving to become the personal chef for “some kind of billionaire,” and 71 Clinton was closing. The gig with the billionaire didn’t last long, and by November Neroni was back in town, cooking at Porchetta in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The critics have mostly been pleased, but Frank Bruni, who loves to hand out stars to casual restaurants in the outer boroughs, could muster only one.
I am sure the owners of Porchetta fancied themselves a two-star restaurant, on the theory that if Dressler and The Little Owl could get two, then so could they. Alas, this time Frank Bruni is entirely correct. Porchetta is a decent casual restaurant, and no doubt a step up for its neighborhood, but we tasted nothing that justifies the schlep from Manhattan. The review seemed to be good for business, though. The restaurant was full on Friday night, and several walk-ins were turned away during our short visit.
The menu offers the traditional Italian appetizers, pastas, and main courses. The pasta portions, however, are not large. We started with the potato gnocchi ($13). Even allowing for the lack of depth in the photo (above), you can see it is not a large portion. The light texture of the gnocchi was heavenly, and I loved the quilt of duck proschiutto and crushed black truffles.
Frank Bruni raved about the short ribs ($20), but we were less impressed. We weren’t fond of the puddle of puréed mustard greens surrounding the brick of short ribs, which were adequate but not ethereal. “Not as good as Café Gray,” as my friend put it.
It so happens my friend and I were immediately drawn to the identical choices—the gnocchi and the short ribs. Our server seemed to think this was a bad idea. When we placed our order, she tried mightily to persuade us to order different items, and share. We found her assertiveness a bit presumptuous, and stuck to our guns. (Yes, Virginia, we did discuss our order before telling you.)
At many casual restaurants, the wine list makes the difference between a moderately priced meal and an expensive one. We were please to find good red wines under $40, and indeed, none over $69. We were quite happy with a bottle priced at $38.
The dining room at Porchetta looks like two or three failed decorating projects gone badly awry. In one corner is a black-and-white striped design suitable for a redneck rec room, with a wooden moose head and two more sets of fake antlers with light bulbs on the end. The rest of the room has two different wallpaper designs, as if the owner started a renovation and ran out of money.
You’ll have a decent meal at Porchetta, but it’s not the revelation Jason Neroni’s fans would claim. It’s solid Italian food, in a city that has plenty of it.
Porchetta (241 Smith Street at Douglass Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn)