There are certain situations where the quality of your experience can vary a lot depending on how you approach them. A Thanksgiving dinner with your in-laws might make you anxious enough to question whether true love is really worth the three hours at this dinner table. But, if you go in knowing that your father-in-law really, really hates NAFTA and that his idea of current popular culture is “the MTV,” then you increase your odds of having an enjoyable night.
At Evelina, the quality of your experience will also be dependent on going in with the right mindset. If you make use of the knowledge that this is a dark and relatively intimate spot where you should stick to the pasta section of the menu, then you will maximize your chances of having a nice dinner before the evening gets underway.
This is a Mediterranean restaurant in a part of Fort Greene that’s packed with good neighborhood spots, but Evelina feels cooler than most of them. The sleek space and dim lighting make it an ideal place to share some interesting wines and pastas with a date or small group. Each time we’ve come, the tables and long bar have been full of people who looked like they enjoyed their coffee get togethers and decided that dinner probably wouldn’t be a total waste of time. How likely these early-in-the-game daters are to come back to Evelina depends on what they order, and if they agree on things like spirit animal compatibility.
The menu of Mediterranean small plates, pastas, and wood-fired entrees rotates weekly. We enjoyed most of the starters, and the persimmon and beets topped with stracciatella is one of the best salads, and appetizers in general, that we’ve had in a while. While the waitstaff will tell you that you can’t go wrong with any of the entrees, we strongly recommend sticking to the pastas. All of them come with a substantial amount of meat or seafood, and the portions are certainly shareable. The squid ink pasta with uni and crab, though, is one that you won’t want to share, even if your date tells you that going halfsies would mean you two can do Thanksgiving in the Caribbean this year. The non-pasta mains, like the branzino and roasted chicken, tend to be forgettable and kept this restaurant’s rating from being quite a bit higher.
Whether or not you leave Evelina eager to return is in your hands. This is not one of those spots where simply walking in the door assures you a great night ahead. You need to go in with a few key points in mind - this is not the place for a rowdy group dinner, stay away from the non-pasta entrees, don’t mention spirit animals. This preparation, like arriving at Thanksgiving with “avoid globalisation and hip-hop” scribbled on your palm, will greatly increase your likelihood of having an enjoyable dinner.
A few long pieces of warm bread over mashed lentils and ricotta. The parts of bread drenched in olive oil are particularly good, but if you’re going to go big on pastas later on, which you definitely should, then you can skip this.
The rings of squash are deep fried and covered in spicy honey and cheese, but technically this is a vegetable. Healthy or light or not-greasy? No. But it is a vegetable, so we suppose you can take comfort in that if you need to.
Persimmon and Beet Salad
You should consider coming to Evelina just to try this. The chopped persimmons and beets come with stracciatella cheese and hazelnuts, which makes this savory, but it’s still a fairly light dish. This is our favorite appetizer here, and one of the best salads we’ve had in a long time.
You won’t be disappointed with this octopus. It’s not the best version we’ve ever had, but the fairly large portion is wood-fired and comes with roasted peppers and a white bean puree that we enjoyed.
One way we like to make ourselves feel like early 20th century business tycoons is to eat raw beef, truffle, or bone marrow. This appetizer combines all three. We imagined ourselves enjoying this tartare in our own train car on our way to shut down some factories after another hostile takeover. Unfortunately, it comes loaded with capers and the saltiness ruined the dish.
Squid Ink Malloreddus
One of the better seafood pastas around. The malloreddus (a denser version of pasta shells) is dyed with squid ink and served with a lot of uni and shrimp. A lot meaning we actually finished the pasta before the chunks of seafood. It’s a little spicy and should definitely be on your table.
This is very good, but know that it’s probably the heaviest pasta on the menu. The thick cylindrical noodles are loaded with wild boar ragu and ricotta cheese. Like all the pastas here, they don’t skimp on the amount of meat. You get pieces of boar in just about every bite. If you’re looking to share a pasta, this would be the one.
Chicken on restaurant menus are kind of like bars in the East Village. When it’s good, we tell all of our friends and come back a lot, but we rarely go in expecting anything special. Our expectations were confirmed with this entree. It’s a big portion and the skin is nice and crispy, but the breast was dry and the jus didn’t add much flavor. Skip this and order another pasta.
A whole fish can be festive to have on your table during a group dinner. There’s just something fun about being served an animal with its head still attached. Maybe it makes us feel closer to nature, or maybe it’s just morbid entertainment. Either way, our branzino was pretty bland and certainly not worth the price. We’ll say it again - stick to the pastas.
Dark chocolate topped with creme fraiche and sea salt. The chocolate is very dense, so this should probably be shared. If you’re a fan of bitter chocolate, this is a good way to end the meal.