Some time ago I started a thread soliciting advice on prices at Al di Là, restaurant Saul and other places in Brooklyn where a not-exactly-flush couple could go celebrate their 3rd wedding anniversary. So, last night we went to Al Di Là (Park Slope, corner of Carroll St. and 5th Ave; no reservations).
It was great! We did blow more cash than we originally wanted to, but that always happens when you like a place (and we'll be eating stew for the next week or so - husband made a bucket of it).
What we ate: I had the appetizer of grilled sardines over arugula; the only downside was that they were rather bony (somehow I thought that these would be teeny sardines that I could eat whole, like I did once in the Mediterranean) but tasty: crispy skin and tender meat, tangy, citrusy dressing and the "hot muddiness" (Mark Bittman's phrase) of arugula. Husband had the malfatti (swiss chard and riccotta balls with walnut sauce), which were a fluffy, buttery, nutty delight. Then I had a special - home made tagliatelle with pheasant ragú; rich, meaty, satisfying, with a nice deep flavor of sage. Husband had the quail - also a special, served over polenta with jus; succulent, gamey, subtly flavored with rosemary and sage and no less satisfying. In fact, both dishes were perfectly seasonal and very filling without being too heavy. Our wine, an Italian red varietal called Legrein (so far unknown to either of us) recommended by the (red-haired, friendly and knowledgeable) waitress was outstanding and went well with the entrees. For dessert we had the pear tart with chocolate chunks (him) and dessert wine (Moscato Rosa by Zeni) with honey gelato (me); ordering dessert wine always makes me feel so grown up and sophisticated. The tart was good if not great (we thought the chocolate would overpower the pears, but were curious anyway; well, it did), the dessert wine was delicious, the honey gelato sent me to heaven (but I came right back). It tasted exactly like honey with milk, which is a childhood drink I allow myself about once a year when suffering from a sore throat, and to me it's one of the simplest, most innocently delicious things on earth; the gelato didn't try to improve on the simple goodness of honey and cream, and it was perfect. The sliver of pignoli brittle that was wedged between the scoops was a nice contrast.
Total damage was $114 without tip, not bad at all for what it was; service was friendly, polite, quick (but never rushed) and just generally pleasant, even though this was Saturday night and they were very busy. The place filled up fast and some diners were louder than others, but it still felt like a special night for us. As we walked back to Carroll Gardens we assured each other many times that we would come back soon, because eating like this just IS worth some sacrifice.