Eating on Avenue B

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Friends

After a couple of postponements, CL, CF and I had our long-awaited dinner at the new-ish Italian spot, Enoteca Barbone.

I hopped the 4 to Union Square for a quick stop at Trader Joe’s. Well, “quick,” is relative – the store, located on the ground level of NYU’s Palladium residence hall, named for the once-popular Steve Rubell-Ian Schrager owned dance club which it replaced, has been perpetually mobbed since it opened last spring.

A couple packs of roasted almonds and dark chocolate covered espresso beans later, I headed east to Avenue B with my TJ’s brown paper bag. I arrived at our destination early to find CF at the bar, already enjoying a pre-dinner quartino of wine – a signature feature of the Babbo wine program, most likely carried over by Barbone chef John Baron, who spent time in Mario Batali’s kitchens at Babbo and Lupa.

At 7:00PM on a Wednesday, the restaurant was oddly empty of other diners. The front dining room had a warm, rustic design: exposed red brick walls, dark wood, white tablecloths – reminiscent of half a dozen similarly-themed Italian inotecas. Once CL arrived and our server led us down a short, narrow hall into the back, it was another story: Barbone’s raison d’être, and the feature that sets it apart from the other East Village Italians in its price range (Max, Supper, Il Bagatto, Frank, etc.): its expansive outdoor garden, a charming green-filled patio with European vintage-styled street lamps and wood and rattan seating, which offers a soothing respite amid the still occasionally gritty Avenue B.

Enoteca Barbone

In the garden, the scene was more lively; eventually every table was filled with groups of diners, relaxing in the warm open air with glasses from the extensive, all-Italian wine list, many under $40.

We began with plates roasted artichokes and terrific asparagus fries – delicate, tender stalks battered in a light wine batter and served with pancetta aïoli. We each selected from among the fine, homemade pasta offerings ($12-$15): for CL and CF, the ricotta gnocchi with brown butter and sage; for me, the linguine with clams pancetta, white wine, garlic and chili — a good yardstick dish. To finish, we three friends shared creamy cheesecake and a dish of the affogato – vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso – as we laid the groundwork for future travels come winter.

On the way out, we chatted briefly with the gracious owner, a native of Istria, who explained to us the origins of the restaurant name: “enoteca” for “wine shop,” “barbone” meaning “tramp” (as in hobo) – a moniker which seems to belie the casual elegance of this welcome addition to the East Village.

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