In our part of Bensonhurst, very little remains of the old days of the neighborhood. There's Alex's dry cleaner that is closing down shop after fifty-two years in that same spot in the strip mall next to Food Dynasty. There's Mona Lisa Bakery, but we don't talk about that anymore. There are a few good no-frills-but-delicious-food Italian restaurants and bakeries on 18th Avenue: West End Bakery, Il Colosseo, and the like. But right on the corner of Bay 8th Street and 86th Street is Tommaso's Restaurant, an unassuming but quaint storefront that's been there for as long as I can remember. In twenty four years of residence in Bensonhurst, never have I stepped foot into Tommaso's until now, and boy was I missing out!
It was date night. Where, oh where, can we grab a nice meal that's not Paco's Taco's or Outback Steakhouse? We ventured past Tommaso's tiny outdoor patio and into a very homey, rustic-looking restaurant space. Instantly I knew I would like it. The place was lit by a warm, romantic glow. There was a very random but almost-hipster-ish pile of books stacked up high. Copies of Italian masterpieces hung from the walls.
The bread bowl - assorted pretzel sticks and crackers that I didn't love, but also this warm sliced loaf studded with giant sesame seeds that I did emphatically love - was accompanied by olive oil and pesto. How fragrant and basil-y and olive-y!!
They also gave us a couple of amuse bouche (I wonder how you say that in Italian) in the form of two arancini and focaccia squares. Man, that was some heavenly focaccia, the way Mr. DiGiacomo's mom used to make. But that's a story for another time....
Alex had the pasta e fagioli (he couldn't help but order "pasta fazoooool") and I had baked clams. I'm not a huge fan of fazool but these fazool were tasty; the bowl was full of hot white beans and little snippets of pasta in a thick stew. I loved my little breaded-and-herb-sprinkled baked clams and wished I had a big platter all for myself. Not too briny, not too chewy, definitely a good appetizer.
Next, Alex ordered the chicken parmesan, per usual, and I had the "Lasagna Napolitano" - a deconstructed lasagna. A deconstructed lasagna is (a) delicious and (b) sheets of cooked lasagna pasta buried under saucy shredded beef, with a side of roasted potatoes that were divinely salty and crackly. The shredded beef was rich and flavorful, though the entire dish was extremely heavy. I ended up taking about half the lasagna and potatoes home for a curious breakfast the next day.
|Where's the beef? Here's the beef!|
We ended date night with Italian cheesecake and panna cotta. Alex and his family have been on the hunt for The Perfect Italian Cheesecake (made not with cream cheese but with whipped ricotta: fluffy and pillowy when done right), and while Tommaso's didn't score top marks, it was nonetheless a solid dessert. A thin layer of crushed pistachios and orange peel separated the crust from the cheesecake, which was a little more dense than I pictured. I heartily enjoyed my panna cotta, which had a bit of orange syrup, to the point where I was close to licking the plate clean.
In order to try all that New York City has to offer us in terms of food, Alex and I have sworn to not repeat restaurants, but we are already making plans to return to Tommaso's this weekend. Mangia!