Italian restaurants are really having a moment in the city. A small, edited selection of small plates, pasta and pizza is now de riguer, and having a bowl of cacio e pepe almost seems obligatory. That’s the appeal of restaurants like Lilia, Perla and Pasquale Jones, and now there’s another one to add to the list, Barano in Brooklyn.
Barano, unfortunately, hasn’t perfected this rustic Italian food formula as well as its peers. It’s received so much good press that you might think it’s the one to beat, but it’s all hype. Barano is not the new Lilia as certain food critics might proclaim. It’s not even in the same league. It’s not as pretty, for one thing. Lilia is sleek and sophisticated, whereas Barano looks like an earth-toned Russian bath converted into a Cucina and Co. It doesn’t measure up in so many ways. Except for the house bread. That focaccia bread is what’s keeping this place alive.
If homestyle Italian cooking is your forte, you’ve got to kill it with the meatballs. Barano didn’t quite do that, but they made a good effort. The thing holding the meatballs back was how uncharacteristically squishy they were, having a texture similar to fish balls, which threw me off. I was looking forward to the grilled zucchini, expecting something warm and charred, but what arrived was an odd hodge podge of hot fried pieces with cold grilled ones and some random pieces of straciatella that didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves. It was like I was eating some sort of prep for a vegetable dish that didn’t quite make it to the final step.
The lowest point, and in some ways most comical part, of our dinner was when our pizza arrived, and our server said that we got to cut our own pizzas with a pair of shears, as if that were some sort of selling point. No one likes cutting their own pizza, you want someone else to cut it into symmetrical triangles for you. Plus the pizza wasn’t even worth all that effort. It was way overcooked, reducing the crust to cardboard, and something about the toppings was so salty. The server offered to bring us another pie, a gesture I appreciated, but it had already taken so long for our original order to arrive, so we declined. Too bad we couldn’t rely on the bucatini pasta as backup, which was just cold and sad…
The server was so proactive in trying to win us over after the pizza debacle, so he earns some points for that. He offered us some desserts on the house, the cannoli and the baba au rhum cake. The cannoli recipe was passed down by Chef Albert Di Meglio’s grandmother, a very sweet and loving gesture that got its point across in the flavors. While the free desserts were good, they weren’t enough to buy our love. There are so many places doing food like this, and unfortunately the way Barano stands out is by how they don’t measure up to the others.
26 Broadway (between Kent Ave and Wythe Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11249