Brooklyn. Land of the free and home of the hipsters. Brooklyn was the perfect place to go for some Extra Virgin inspiration since it’s chockfull of quirky, organic farmers’ markets and restaurant Italian that tastes like it came from Mama Maria’s toasty kitchen.I warned the friends I was visiting to prepare themselves to consume copious amounts of Italian food because I was coming to find my Extra Virgin muse. To kick the weekend off we had brunch at Dino’s in Fort Greene at the suggestion of my friend Rocky. This place is not only Italian but uses fresh, wholesome organic ingredients to make your mouth water, basically an Extra Virgin dream come true. When I look at a brunch menu I always entertain sweet brunch but really I should know by now: I’m an eggs-kinda-gal when it comes to brunch because let’s face it, nothing assuages a New York hangover like a solid eggs benedict or an omelette with some veggies. I went with the eggs pomodoro, a minimalist yet tasty dish. It was two baked eggs (I never think about baking eggs the way I think about frying, poaching or boiling them) topped with sweet homemade tomato basil sauce, sprinkled with fresh parmesan. A baked egg to me, tastes a lot like a boiled egg but flattened. I love when you eat something delicious and still feel like a hero for doing something good to your body and this is exactly how I felt. The tomato sauce was light and sweet complementing the heaviness of the two eggs. Deconstructing this meal was a reminder that delicious food doesn’t need to be elaborate if made with the freshest of ingredients. Don’t worry I had a bite of everyone else’s dishes under the pretext of “this is for the blog!” which I’m sure will get old really fast. Sruthi’s egg’s benedict was melt-in-your-mouth buttery goodness, served with spinach and Rocky’s rigatoni was served perfectly al dente, served with what tasted like hearty lamb meatballs and sausage. Forgo the coffee and get the hot chocolate – it is SO rich and delish. If you’ve ever been to Naked Chocolate in Philly, the thickness and level of chocolatey-ness here is very similar to that of NC. You can tell they’re using some high quality cocoa powder back there instead of syrup or Swiss Miss. Portions were on the smaller side and unfortunately we were all still pretty hungry after we finished. Our solution: Lemon ricotta pancakes. The lemon was very present in the pancake batter, giving it the perfect amount of tart, along with tiny chunks of ricotta. Rather than distributing the ricotta evenly throughout the pancake I do wish that there was a “pot of gold” type situation at the center of the cakes.
Next stop: Farmer’s market. As they say, “when in Brooklyn, do as the Brooklynites do” and let me tell you they just looove a good farmer’s market. Flea markets by day and ironic hipster bars by night: that’s how we do. Not sure what the name of this Farmer’s market was but there were some unique sells including an entire line of spices in leafy green plant form. You name it they had it from coriander to parsley, grape tomatoes, basil and some obscure spices I can’t recall. They were incredibly fragrant too when rubbed between your fingers. There was also a stall with freshly squeezed variations of apple juice. I got the apply raspberry, vaguely reminiscent of raspberry but not as much as I was hoping but both the pure apple juice (orange in appearance and threw us for a loop) and apple strawberry tasted accurate and yummy. Yet another stall carried various species of mushrooms and popcorn…yes popcorn. Don’t believe me?
Not quite sure what’s so special about this popcorn, looked run of the mill to me. Whenever I’m at a farmer’s market I have this weird fixation with zucchini bread where my eyes always linger just a teensy bit too long. They sure had plenty of that but don’t worry I didn’t give it to temptation this time.
After the farmer’s market I continued to do good things for my body by hitting up PIPs (thank me later for this plug Rocky). PIPs is a place to just drop in, drink a few beers and play some ping-pong: pay as you wish! Don’t know how to play? Not to worry – there are friendly pros hanging out, more than happy to impart some pong wisdom. Rocky turned me into a pro in a matter of minutes! Cool pre-dinner date spot. Gentlemen, wow your ladies with creativity.
(Fun fact: “pips” are the circular ridges on a ping pong paddle. Thanks Rocky!)
Alright brief hiatus aside, back to food. Dinner was at a low key, trendy spot in Manhattan called Manatu. To start we ordered a calamari appetizer to share, but instead of rings, this calamari was in the pre-ring-cut form and grilled instead of fried. As with anything that is not fried, I felt like I was tasting calamari for the first time. It was in its pure form, grilled to blacken it to bring out a surprising amount of flavor. I ordered the penne pasta with shrimp and was satisfied for the most part besides the sauce being a tad on the salty side. Another friend got the spaghetti with chunks of fresh mozzarella, an interesting take but probably not the best I’ve ever had. Dipped on the dessert this time but I would call this place out as another place that uses fresh, purist, Extra Virgin friendly ingredients!