Lucky me! I was taken to dinner at the wonderful Aliseo (665 Vanderbilt Avenue, between Prospect Place & Park Place, 718-783-3400), an amazing and romantic Italian restaurant in Prospect Heights where the food is top notch. It's a tiny sliver of a place, with barely a sign, but once you walk in you know it's going to be good. Ornate decorations abound with huge vases and cornucopias in the corners busting with shafts of wheat. The lighting is low, so it's perfect for a special night out for two, but they also accommodated us, a big party of seven.
The owner is frequently there and is a gregarious, friendly man who is happy to talk food and wine with you. He'll make recommendations, pairings, and will let you know where to find a bottle of your favorite vino. The menu is extensive with more creative combinations than your average pasta & sauce spot. We started with a bunch of appetizers. My absolute favorite was the Crispy Octopus with Potatoes. It was meaty, almost like sausage, with an incredible flavor. Unlike anything I've ever had really. I would come back just for this.
There was an order of Sardines which came in a clean lemony sauce with thin slices of crisp cucumber beautifully coiled around a pile of the fish. This was great too, clean and bright tasting, almost refreshing.
The Mixed Greens Salad with shaved Parmesan was good but basic, with large slices of sharp cheese to offset the greens, although the dressing was minimal, maybe even totally forgotten!
The Mini-Meatballs covered in sesame seeds were delicious. Little, delicate morsels, tasty and slightly juicy and a bit nutty from the sesame seeds, in a lemon arugula pesto. Wonderful.
We ordered a variety of entrees as well. The fennel and rosemary infused suckling pig with Brussel sprouts and potatoes was incredible. Three HUGE cuts of pork were served with delicious Brussel sprouts and crispy on the outside but soft on the inside potatoes. The flavor of the pork was mild, but it was delicious. Slightly sweet, but earthy too, I ended up taking half home because the portion was so large.
The Bronzini was served with fennel as well (it is in season) and was tender with subtle flavors. It was beautifully presented on a colorful platter, simple yet elegant in look and taste.
The Roasted Squash with a walnut puree was interesting and the vegetarians at the table loved it. The warm, earthy flavors are definitely good for winter, and the squash had a hint of sweetness to it which offset the nuttiness nicely.
The Honey & Thyme Pappardelle was a bit of a miss for me. It was too sweet for my brain to make sense of it as pasta while at the same time was kind of plain. A one-note dish that was not eaten.
The Ravioli stuffed with Chestnut was lovely though. On the sweet side too, but the deep and full flavor of the chestnut cut through that so there was more complexity to this dish than the other pasta. With crispy leaves of buttered sage on top.
There are daily specials that depend on what's fresh and in season. I highly recommend Aliseo for anything from romantic nights out to big family dinners as the food is high quality and lovingly prepared in a lovely and comfortable space. Closed Mondays.