By Demetra M. Pappas
There is an actual “Marco” at Marco Polo Ristorante. This 29-year old haute Italian restaurant is, in fact, named after the youthful and engaging Marco Chirico (as well as the Venetian explorer, of course), son of original owner Joseph and current chef. The restaurant, located in the heart of Carroll Gardens, also has a banquet room on the second floor (recently, it was being used for a film shoot, though owners and staff displayed tremendous discretion in not disclosing details).
Tables are spaced amply, but not in isolation, allowing for diners to “visit” other tables and patrons, or to have privacy. This theme is evident with the superb staff, which does not hover, yet is instinctively at the ready if a bottle of sparkling water or basket of bread needs replenishment, or if plates need to be cleared.
Ultimately, whatever the atmosphere, people go to Italian restaurants for the food and stay for the company. This adage holds at Marco Polo. The fior di latte (chef’s handmade mozzarella) is served on thin slices of tomato, and bright basil leaves, with an olive oil and balsamic reduction that leaves a memorable kick. True green brightness is in the tricolore salad, which goes beyond the traditional radicchio, endive and spicy arugula, to include tomatoes and olives in a pleasing (and healthful) mound. There is also a Bloody Mary raw bar and a variety of oysters Rockefeller and traditional baked clams.
One feature that I like is that the hand made fresh pastas (made with organic eggs) are also available gluten free, which makes a whole array of dining opportunities available to some who have thought they bit into their last al dente linguine fine alla vongole (clam linguine, at Marco Polo made with Manila clams). However, the seafood could make even the most dedicated pasta lover look away toward salmone scotatto (seared salmon with lemon and capers) served in thick pieces with a variety of grilled vegetables. Likewise, sogliola in crostathe (file of sole encrusted in potatoes) is a standout for delicate flavor brightened by arugula and colorful, flavorful cherry tomatoes.
Desserts at Marco Polo are exceptional. The Italian ricotta cheesecake is replete with cheese and has just enough cake to make it stand on its own, proudly wearing its strawberry embellishments. The lady fingers in the tiramisu are marinated to perfection. The coffee and tea are available with, or after, dessert (a nice Mediterranean touch).
That the restaurant is encased in a lively neighborhood and a block from the subway makes it all the more convenient to Manhattan dwellers (such as the person who accompanied me on my visit), and Brooklynites. And Hollywood!
Marco Polo Ristorante