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Vutera

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  • Cuisine: Mediterranean
  • Vibe: Subterranean sanctuary.
  • Occasion: Romantic date, group dinner, preconcert bites.
  • Don’t Miss: Roasted poussin, braised lamb shank
  • Price: Appetizers, $8; entrees, $16; dessert; $5.
  • Reservations: Accepted
  • Phone: (718) 599-0069
  • Location: 345 Grand St. between Marcy & Havemeyer Aves, Brooklyn.

I’m not big on atmosphere. I’m the type who prefers phenomenal food
to phenomenal décor. I’d take a great steak over a great scene any day.
But even I was put off by the grungy entryway to Vutera, a restaurant
that opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a few months ago.

Open
the door, and you’re standing in a dark hallway with a whole mess of
concert posters taped to the walls. Just ahead, there’s another door
with two hand-scrawled signs in light boxes hanging over it. The sign
with the arrow pointing right reads: “For Drinks or Music.” That takes
you to Rose Live Music, a bare-bones bar where alternative Brooklyn
bands perform most nights. The sign with the arrow pointing left – the
one that says, “For Food” – that’s the one you want to follow.

Down
an uneven flight of stairs and past a bodega-type ATM is Vutera.
Wandering into Vutera is like one of those great “Alice in Wonderland”
falling- down-the-rabbit-hole moments. Suddenly, you’re in this
subterranean sanctuary with low-wood beam ceilings, vintage wine crates
along one wall, stone along another. Colorful tulips, old-fashioned
candlestick holders, granny plates, dish towel napkins and mismatched
chairs and silverware at every table.

Really, the only thing
Rose Live Music and Vutera have in common is the same entrance and
owners. Brother-and-sister team Carlo & Gina Vutera started serving no-frills food in what they used to call the “restaurant downstairs” about a year ago.

Now
it’s Vutera. They serve striped bass with sauteed mustard greens, pine
nuts, and Meyer lemons shipped from the the chef’s mother’s house in California. Molly Del Monte, the chef, used to work at Little Giant and Savoy, two well-liked restaurants in downtown Manhattan….

At Vutera, she makes Mediterranean cuisine in the basement of
a bar, in a kitchen with no gas. Del Monte makes the most of the four
electric stoves. I’m not sure how she manages to pull off such a
crispy-skinned poussin with cremini mushrooms, and crispy spaetzle
squiggles. Or how she can cook the bavette steak to a perfect medium
rare – just as I ordered – and still have time to feed the rest of the
guests, all on four electric stoves. The table favorite was a tender,
red wine-braised lamb shank with baby carrots and polenta.

But
twice I tried the parsnip gnocchi, and twice it was a bust. It sounded
good – homemade gnocchi with beet green “pesto,” shiitake mushrooms and
Valdeon blue cheese. No dice. The gnocchi arrived undercooked in a
curiously bland “pesto,” made from sauteed beet stems, beet greens,
pine nuts and caramelized onions. And the Spanish mackerel escabeche
was pickled to death by much too much grapefruit, salt, cumin,
coriander and pickled onions.

As for dessert, the apple tart
was dry and the almond panna cotta sour, but there’s a terrific cheese
selection. So do what the Italians do and order cheese and wine to
finish. I like when a restaurant features wine by the glass, quartino
or bottle, and Vutera offers its entire wine list by all three. My
favorites: a spunky 2007 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet and a 2006 Aldo Marenco Dolcetto.

There’s a lot of neighborhoods and a lot of restaurants, but I live in midtown Manhattan and I’ll be back to Vutera.

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