The New Yorker

Monday, March 26, 2007

Amorina, Tables for Two
624 Vanderbilt Ave., at Prospect Pl., Brooklyn (718-230-3030)
Tables for Two MARCH 26, 2007

Amorina is a study in contradictions. The bright lights, set in mismatched fixtures, the neon sign in the window, and the takeout service seem to indicate a neighborhood pizza joint, but the relatively high prices—twelve dollars for most of the individual pies—seem more in line with the artisanal aspirations of Franny’s, another lofty-minded pizza place, two blocks over, on Flatbush Avenue. (On the other hand, Amorina also offers a takeout special, listed on a blackboard behind the counter: two slices and a drink for five dollars.) The Italian memorabilia on the walls—vintage ice-cream and soda ads, a map of Umbria and Le Marche, receipts from the café that the grandmother of the owner, Albano Ballerini, operated in Italy—speak of tradition, but the menu includes such unconventional offerings as the Giallorossa, with dried cherries, nutmeg, and crème fraîche.

Ruth Kaplan, the pizzaiola, produces almost perfectly charred and crispy crusts, and creates their toppings with an eye to detail: thinly sliced, almost transparent zucchini laid out like an emerald mosaic and laced with pesto; atop the tricolore pizza, a heap of arugula with a dusting of salt. A Gorgonzola pie with pears and figs was creamy and only slightly sweet, despite a drizzle of dark honey, while a Siciliana pie successfully married the acidic tang of orange slices to lightly caramelized onions and fennel. There are pastas, too, including a meaty, not too saucy lasagna, but they can feel halfhearted, as a tepid spaghetti with calamari and peas did on a recent visit.

Even so, the homey atmosphere—flowery wallpaper, turquoise tiles—makes the little things that are slightly off, like warm wineglasses, seem somehow charming. “We have to store our glassware near the superhot oven,” the waitress explained, gesturing toward the small kitchen. After the last slice of pizza has been devoured (it’s better to be a glutton than to take it home; the crust is better when fresh), there’s a dessert tray to inspect. The tiramisu could be the restaurant’s mascot: it’s humble (served in a tumbler), evocative (the ur-dessert of Italian eateries everywhere), and deliciously idiosyncratic (less ladyfinger, more superbly thick mascarpone).