The menu is conveniently divided into "Cold," "Hot," "Pasta" and "Protein" sections for today's on-the-go diner. We ultimately elected to order every dish from each category except for the Cold, which, due to insurmountable differences in cuisine preference, we couldn't agree on a single dish. I hate hearts of palm, someone else doesn't like cucumbers. So it goes.
Let's break the meal down by menu section.
Zucchini with salmon roe, buttery breadcrumbs and a smear of ricotta was our introduction to Chef Romano's cuisine. Steve immediately pointed out the comparison with Roberta's in the plating, which definitely seems to be an influence, but portions were larger across the board, and this necessarily affected how they were plated. The zucchini evoked Italy, but with a common touch: salmon roe. Playing with textures-- the zucchini was crisp and accentuated by the breadcrumbs while the salmon roe burst in our mouths, all lubricated by the fresh, ultra creamy ricotta-- this dish was a promising start.
Calamari with Charentais melon, chili and sea grass was easily my favorite appetizer. Surprisingly spicy (which allowed me to finish the dish myself when others demurred), the calamari was tender, yet still firm. If I had one complaint, it's that the chunks of melon, while they added a pleasing sweetness, were maybe slightly too big. OK, I guess you need big chunks of melon when the flavor of the calamari is so strong. Quibble withdrawn.
Rock shrimp, cherry, pancetta and another, smaller smear of black garlic was fine, but unmemorable. While the combination of black garlic and shrimp didn't really work for me, the addition of cherry to black garlic was intriguing, and would probably work better with something other than rock shrimp.
Cencioni with ragu bianco, chicken and celery tasted like an Italian pasta version of chicken with dumplings. Verging on overly salty, this dish was hearty and almost wintery. Despite the muggy surroundings, I thoroughly enjoyed the dish, especially the excellent handmade pasta.
Pici with trotter and Pecorino in a tomato sauce was a perfectly executed classic. The trotters melted porky essence into the pasta sauce while still making noise among the other elements.
Tagliatelle in crab brodo with monkfish cheek and burrata was fine, again with perfectly cooked pasta, but the rest of the dish was unmemorable-- not good enough to violate the holy gospel that "thou shalt not mix cheese with shellfish when cooking Italian."
Our first main was the duck with faro, plum sauce and a "perfectly poached" egg. I've been working on my egg poaching technique, so I was eager to learn whether this egg was as perfectly poached as mine (fine-- it was even better). The farro, quite al dente, adhered to the duck and leeched up the classic plum sauce and rich egg yolk, which sat atop more faro.
Next, our dry-aged sirloin with hon shimeji mushrooms, blue cheese and dragon tongue beans arrived. Our waitress rightfully gushed about the quality of the steak, which was "aggressively" aged for a near-staggering 60 days by a woman in the Meatpacking District. However, while the beef was flawless (recalling the 90-day aged steak we'd tried at Roberta's), the competing funk of the blue cheese dressing drowned out that of the steak. We were reduced to scraping off the sauce and eating it plain.
Finally, Rabbit with "fairy tale" eggplant, chantrelles and agretti. I was so full at this point that I hesitated in lunging for a perfectly medium rare duck heart. Missing out, I was reduced to trying the handful of other preparations, dipping everything into the livery butter sauce. Each was stellar, especially the rabbit ragu (that's what I'm calling it) on the left of the plate.
For dessert, we decided on the farro rice krispy with olive oil gelato. Chef Romano personally served our desserts, which had been conveniently split in half (or its possible we got two portions), as well as complimentary ice cream sandwiches, which we'd initially decided against ordering. I dug the olive oil gelato, which wasn't too sweet, along with the rice crispy, which appeared to be half farro, half rice.
While our meal was exceptional, it was also surprisingly expensive. In Masten Lake's defense, we would probably have ordered the same amount of food if the original six in our group had showed up (I like calling out slacker friends on my blog-- you know who you are) and been just as full. Regardless, I enjoyed Chef Romano's cuisine. It definitely shows promise and I'm hopeful Masten Lake manages to find a niche among a crowded Williamsburg restaurant scene.
285 Bedford Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.