First Bites: Venetian Squid and Rabbit Ravioli at Marco’s


You may want to bring your Italian-to-English dictionary along to decode the menu at Marco's–Prospect Heights' newest Italian spot. Photo: Daniel Broadhurst

You may want to bring your Italian-to-English dictionary along to decode the menu at Marco’s where every dish is culled from owners Francine Stephens’ and Andrew Feinberg’s trips to Italy. Photo: Daniel Broadhurst

Marco’s is one of the first spots on our fall restaurant preview to actually open its doors–it debuted on Flatbush Avenue last week, finally giving eager Prospect Heights residents a look at the new spot from the owners of Franny’s, which moved to a larger space down the avenue this spring.

First thing to know: There’s no pizza.

“Andrew [Feinberg] and I have always talked about opening a classic trattoria,” says Francine Stephens, co-owner of Franny’s/Marco’s. The restaurant’s menu reflects a direction that’s much more classic Italian than New Brooklyn. While there’s a focus on sustainability, don’t expect any farm-to-table touches like pork belly or dandelion greens showing up atop the bucatini. Every dish is culled from Stephens’ and Feinberg’s trips through Italy, and the key word here is “authenticity.” The dining room is also a big departure from Franny’s firewood-accented, farmhouse casualness. Here there’s a sleek white marble bar, cushioned banquettes and lots of dark mahogany for a clubhouse-style feel.

You may want to bring your Italian-to-English dictionary along to decode the menu. Stephens points to an agnolotti al coniglio (tiny ravioli stuffed with rabbit) as one of the fresh pasta dishes she’s most excited about. Appetizers range from spiedino alla romano–lightly fried cubes of mozzarella–to more adventurous fare like charred duck hearts and gizzards. I opted for a zucchini in carpione, a straightforward but unusual Piedmontese dish that consists of vinegar-soaked, almost pickle-like slices of zukes served over a fried egg, with fresh sage and dill. I’ve had lots of dishes topped with runny egg in Brooklyn lately, but nothing quite like this. It was flavorful, but I have to say it felt a bit oddly incomplete–I almost wanted them to go ahead and do something New Brooklyn like say throw it on a house-baked brioche or over some thick-cut bacon perhaps.

The Venetian-style squid I tried  is nothing like your typical fried calamari; instead, it’s stewed in a flavorful broth until it has lost most of its chewiness and taken on a moist texture that soaks up the wine and vinegar. Elsewhere there are hearty entrees like a spit-roasted pork loin with rosemary and anchovies or wood-grilled lamb chops and sides such as radishes with sorrel and crème fraîche.

The classic approach at Marco’s definitely sets it apart from every other Modern American restaurant opening in Brooklyn these days. While everything I sampled was quite tasty, my only complaint is that the prices are a bit Manhattan high, as they use that classic Italian menu structure that never seems to work out well for the customer. Main courses (secondi) are $19 to $28, and that doesn’t include your sides (contorni), which run $6 to $10. The $19 pasta dishes are not quite full meals, and while I found the $10 peach crostata to be perfectly flaky, it was definitely not sized to share. I hate to sound like a fatty American bitching about not getting enough food, but I also have to wonder if the new Prospect Heights is ready for neighborhood spots where the food bill can easily run $50 a person, before drinks, tax and tip. Of course, the entire place was packed when I stopped in on opening night last Monday, so I suppose it probably is.

Marco’s, 295 Flatbush Ave. (near Prospect Place); 718-230-0427

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