Spring Awakening

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284 Grand St.
(betw. Roebling & Havemeyer Sts.), B’klyn

My good friend Heather and I were meeting for a late dinner date in Williamsburg with no particular destination in mind. So many Brooklyn destinations are brimming with attitude or bulge with pricey enticements, but we were looking for something welcoming and affordable (the two most difficult options in the nabe) when we stumbled upon Fiore.

“Uh, is this new?” I asked stupidly. The answer was glaringly clear: The huge floor-to-ceiling windows and heavy rustic-looking glass door glinted with freshness—almost like a flower among weeds on the dimly lit block of Grand Street. Fiore is written in charming letters above the door, which also means “freshness” or “flower” in Italian. From the outside, the chic boite looks elegant and inviting, but all the cuteness caused us to fear the prices would keep us from enjoying a meal.

As I pulled the heavy velvet curtains aside to enter the dining area, it was like peeking into someone’s country manse. A long, centrally located bar is lined with charming white chairs. The wooden tables are stationed over a black-and-white checkered floor. It’s all completed with jaunty wild flowers in soup cans as centerpieces to give it a super Italian-country feel.

But it was the menu that really shocked us: Nothing was priced over $15. The extensive wine list includes close to 80 wines (starting at $20 a bottle/$6 a glass), as well as $4 bottled beer selections. As we all try to figure out creative ways to make the dollar go a little further, Fiore was an easy choice. We felt as if we were scoring a good meal for close to nothing.

“Table for two please,” we agreed.

We walked past a long table with a large Italian family and plenty of children spouting Italian phrases, which only added to the authenticity of the place. At the other side of the restaurant was a horizontal wooden coat rack with the family’s coats and jackets, causing us to feel another cozy twinge.

Our waiter was very attentive, explaining that Fiore had been open since January, as he helped us pick out a bottle of red ($20). Before the wine arrived, we munched on white bread and olive oil while scouring the menu of Italian classics—spinach ravioli in brown butter sage sauce, lasagna bolognese, whole orata with salmoriglio sauce, monkfish with roasted garlic in a lemon preserve caper sauce ($14) and slow-cooked lamb shank with gremolade and mashed potatoes ($14)—before we decided to start with the mussels ($6). They were cooked perfectly and came out sprinkled with cilantro pieces in a big bowl with not-too-creamy broth and two toasted garlicky slices of bread on top.

The first choice out of the way, Heather decided on the salmon with artichokes, prosciutto and olives with a side order of mashed potatoes, and I opted for the skirt steak with salsa verde. Our two gargantuan plates took over almost the entire surface of our table for two.

My skirt steak was a heaping pile of strips; and the tender, deliciously seasoned morsels left nothing for complaint. Heather’s salmon sat atop large artichoke chunks with generous portions of prosciutto and olives.
Our wine glasses never seemed to be empty, and the table was always full. After finishing about half our meal, we were both warm on the inside and red in the cheeks. When our waiter’s shift ended, another attentive, Italian-accented man made sure that our transition from one good-looking waiter to the next went smoothly. After asking him to box up the other half of our dinner, he was soon setting down a beautifully plated slice of chocolate cake.

“We didn’t order this,” we said in unison.

“I know, it’s compliments of the chef,” the Italian stallion replied.

What? It didn’t seem like this meal could’ve gotten any better, and yet it did. The gorgeous chocolate almond cake came with a nice dollop of whipped cream, chocolate syrup drizzled over the top, with a heap of shaved-chocolate fresh strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.

After enjoying an appetizer, a bottle of wine, two entrees and a dessert (OK, that one was gratis), we’d managed to spend only $64. But really, we left with much more. Fiore is one of those rare finds that allows you to feel you’re splurging on a sumptuous meal, enjoying good food and wine with friends, without regretting it all later.
Now if we can just make sure it never loses its feel-good country-kitchen vibe, we’ll all stay happy.

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