On Sunday night my family clamored into Pó on Smith Street. We were there to spend Mom’s bowling money. Every year we take advantage of her mad skills and cash in her prize money with a decadent family dinner. With its warm setting and fresh Italian fare, Pó proved itself worthy of our annual celebration.
Open since mid-June, Pó Brooklyn is the sister restaurant to the Manhattan outpost of the same name. Mario Batali has long since come and gone at the original Cornelia Street location, but current chef Lee McGrath asserts his own successful interpretation of seasonal Italian cuisine at both locales.
Despite its small space, Pó evokes openness and sunshine, encouraged by mustard-colored walls, exposed brick, and off-white wood trim. Surprisingly restrained music made conversation easy. Well, easy for people who don’t constantly talk over each other, but that’s just us.
While my father selected from the extensive Italian wine list, we enjoyed the complimentary white bean bruschetta, light and cool, perfect for a warm summer evening. Jim and I then split the meatballs with tomatoes and asiago cheese ($10). Gentle and soft, those meatballs were smoother than Mom’s bowling ball heading for a clean strike.
A benefit of eating with family is that everyone shares their food. (Or steals from each other’s plates, however you want to look at it.) So I sampled my mother’s shaved fennel salad ($9), a refreshing mix of fresh fennel, bitter watercress, black olives, and tomatoes. We all picked from Dad’s tasty orrechiette with sweet sausage and broccoli rabe ($15), barely leaving the poor man with anything for himself.
My sister Melissa and I both ordered the white bean ravioli in a brown butter sauce ($13) for our main course. Delicate triangles of autumn-hued pasta filled with smooth white beans created a subtle exchange of sweet and tangy flavors. But Jim’s homemade gnocchi with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil ($16) was my favorite dish of the night. The firm simplicity of the gnocchi gave full expression to the freshness of the accompanying ingredients.
The surprises of the night were discovered among the contorni, especially with the fregula ($8), a toasted pasta salad with roasted corn and scallions that fairly exploded with crisp flavors. Jim, who had threatened to hoard his sautéed dandelion greens ($7), finally relented and allowed the rest of us to delight in their bitterness.
I had saved room for the “Pó Sundae,” composed of fresh mint gelato, cinnamon spiced pine nuts, and chocolate sauce ($6), and it more than fulfilled the sundae cravings I’d harbored for the past week. I distracted myself long enough to taste Melissa’s panna cotta with amarone cherries ($6), a firm, creamy slide of freshness.
And so we left Pó with our cravings satisfied and stomachs filled. Dinner was a gentle, elegant experience overall, filled with good food, friendly service, and relaxing atmosphere. For me, Pó is a little too refined to be considered a casual neighborhood joint; Frankie’s Spuntino already fills that need for us. But for very good Italian food (and generous portions of it) in a lovely space, it’s one of the best options on Smith Street.
And Mom, keep up the bowling. I’m already working on where we’ll go next year.
276 Smith Street (between Sackett and Degraw Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn) 718-875-1980