Having been a big fan of Cucina, right up to its closing, I was eager to try Tempo, especially after reading an upbeat review by Arthur Schwartz in the latest Bklyn magazine. (I even jotted down his favorite dishes and took the notes with me.)
Happily, my friend and I were able to simply walk in on Saturday night at 7:45 and get a nice table. The place was packed.
While the food was, in general, very good, I found the dining experience disturbing enough to make me think twice about going back.
Though the service in general was very attentive (they refilled our water glasses three times and kept plying us with bread till we shooed them away), the waiter kept pushing two desserts (flan and something else). He mentioned them so often I finally asked him if the other desserts listed were available. (They were.) He also, when we asked, said one of the appetizers -- the beet salad -- could be shared by two, when in fact, it was simply too small. (I appreciate his trying to please us, but someimes brutal honesty is the better course.)
Which brings me to one of my complaints -- the size of the portions. I ordered the bucatini as a main course. I really think for $18 one can get a bit more than a small mound of pasta the size of my fist. The sauce was really delicious, with the fried breadrumbs giving it a delightful crunch, though at the price I felt compelled to savor every strand. (And for the record, al dente pasta to my mind does not mean chewy pasta.) My friend's chicken dish was notably small also.
Similarly the wine was pricey - at least by Fifth Avenue standards. They don't serve wine by the glass (except for sparkling). Instead, if you don't want a full bottle you have to order a quarter liter, which amounts to 8+ ounces for $12-$15. If you have any thought of "splitting" this quarter liter, be prepared to make a small pool of wine last a whole meal. The fact that it's served in an enormous oversized wine glass makes the whole experience even more ridiculous.
Except for the undercooked pasta I enjoyed everything I ate, down to the feather-light beignets (i.e. zeppoles) and coffee gelato dessert. However, if I had to sum up with one word to sum up Tempo it would be "pretentious."
I'm not talking about the service, which is very accommodating, I'm referring to the food. For example, my friend's chicken came with pureed chickpeas, cut into bars, fried and stacked like Lincoln Logs. Is this really an improvement over french fries? I read about these kinds of places and their inventive dishes all the time. I thought I wanted to eat in them. Well, here it is -- right in my own backyard -- and I'm disappointed. Am I a hopeless provincial or just a chowhound out of water?
This is definitely not a feeling I get when I eat at Bistro St. Marks or al di la. While I'm flattered the owners of Tempo think the Slope will be receptive to this kind of cuisine, on the other hand it's a little frightening.
Or maybe I should just shut up and eat?