Friday, September 12, 2008

Queen Is King

Tucked away on busy Court Street in Downtown Brooklyn is a truly great Italian restaurant, one of the best in Brooklyn, and in all of New York City, in my humble opinion.

Unexpected Quality In An Unexpected Place

If you didn't know better you might easily walk right by this place, but it is well worth a closer look.

A Closer Look

Originally opened in 1958 by the late Chef Anthony Vitiello, it is now run by his son's Pasquino and Vincent. When I first moved to Brooklyn about 25 years ago it was located about a block away sandwiched between a real dive bar, Juilio's II (think bartender behind Plexiglas) and an abandoned porno theater. It was a classic Italian restaurant, dark wood, low lights, the real deal. When the block was redeveloped with a Barnes and Noble bookstore and a multiplex movie theater they relocated and redecorated with a more modern, fern-bar look.

No More Dark Wood

At first I was not overly impressed. However, the food remained the same, outstanding.

There is a small bar with only four chairs, mostly a service bar but before the place gets too crowded in the evening it is a pleasant enough spot to sit and have a drink.

Small, But Nice

The dining area opens up in the back so it is larger than it looks in the picture above. We got there early so we pretty much had our choice of seats and opted to sit up front by the windows.

A Window Seat

From here we could just sit and watch the world walk by.

Watching The World Walk By

If you squinted you could even imagine that you could see the Manhattan skyline.

You Have To Squint Really Hard Though

The squinting works much better after several cocktails. And they do turn out really good cocktails here. I like to start off with either a Bombay Martini, up with a twist or a Manhattan. They never fail to deliver a well-built one, icy cold.

My Pre-Dinner Libation

They are quick to bring you a bread plate that has a nice selection of freshly made bread and bread sticks. The bread sticks are sprinkled with fennel and they always make me think of my days living in the North End of Boston.

Bringing Back The Memories

You may remember me raving about the grilled octopus appetizer that they serve here. Simply delicious and one of my favorites. They also serve a dynamite steak, easily as good as you get at most steak houses and for about half the price. This trip though, because we got there early, we opted for the $24.99 prix fixe dinner. Truly a bargain, and not just something they throw together as some kind of an early-bird special.

Well Worth An Occasional Early Dinner

I started with the green beans and beets served with little dollops of Gorgonzola cheese and a couple of olives. It was nicely plated and looked even better before I ate a couple of the beets.

Crisp And Fresh

The Mysterious Chinese Woman started out with the arugula salad, her usual first course. She then followed that up with the Filet of Sole, lightly crusted with bread crumbs and grilled with fresh herbs.

Looking Good And Tasting Just As Good

I opted for the Scallopine Of Pork sauteed with rosemary and served with homemade sausage.

Simply Delicious

As you can see, the portions are more than adequate and everything is very flavorful. Even the potato croquettes that come with them are delicious here and not just something thrown on the plate for filler. I will sometimes eat them the next day if we take home a doggy bag

Potato On A Stick, Er, Fork

Okay, that was just for the camera. I put it back on my plate and used good table manners to actually eat it.

We both finished our meal with the Ricotta Cheesecake served with two fresh fruit sauces. Again, it was beautifully plated and delicious. Kiwi fruit and strawberry sauces were a perfect complement to the not overly sweet cheesecake.

Looks Good Enough To Eat

I always like to finish off my meal with an espresso and a Strega or two. A lot of places do not carry Strega, a traditional Italian after dinner drink that is somewhat like Sambuca, but not nearly as sweet. Strega is Italian for Witch

Bar Man And The Witch

Strega is an herbal liquor with over 70 different herbs including fennel that gives it the licorice flavor and safron that gives it the yellowish color. It has been around since 1860 weighs in at 80 proof, the same as most whiskys these days. Somehow it goes down much easier though, so you might want to take it easy. Something Bar Man often fails to do.

If you are ever in the neighborhood you owe it to yourself to stop in at Queen for a truly delicious Italian meal. The service is also very attentive and friendly and, as mentioned, the drinks are well-built. They have a decent wine list as well, but I am always satisfied with their house Chianti and The Mysterious Chinese Woman is more than happy with one of their house whites.

Even if you are not in the neighborhood, this restaurant is well worth seeking out. It is easily reached by subway, just being a couple blocks away from more lines then you can shake a stick at.

Although Queen wasn't very crowded when we first got there because it was quite early, by the time we left it had packed up pretty well.

The Crowd Rolled In

They also do a real nice lunch business, especially on Monday through Friday.

Smith Street is considered to be Brooklyn's restaurant row these days, but Queen alone puts Court Street in close competition.

Queen on Urbanspoon