There’s something special about a neighborhood restaurant opened by neighborhood people… like friends who walked down Myrtle Avenue one night after work and looked around and thought, “I could add something here.” That’s pretty much how LaRina Pastificio & Vino (387 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-852-0001) came about — albeit imagined by friends with a legacy in the restaurant world. (Don’t miss the Voice’s review of LaRina.)
“I live a block away,” says Giulia Pelliccioni, co-owner of LaRina along with partner Roberto Aita. “I’d seen the space and I loved the garden already, so I couldn’t not try when it was available.”
LaRina is named after Giulia’s grandmother. This pasta-focused Italian eatery has 80 seats, soaring ceilings, and banks of windows, along with a central, open kitchen and an herb-filled patio. That’s not all — there’s a knotted tree that is rooted in the dining room, growing out through the wall towards the sky.
“We make everything ourselves,” says Silvia Barban, chef and another of LaRina’s partners. “Every day, we make fresh pasta, of course, but I like to put my own twist on things.” One of the menu’s highlights is chilled chickpea tagliatelle with calamari and tomato gazpacho. “It’s refreshing for summer, and a little unexpected, no?”
“I want to make the traditional dishes that my grandmother taught me when I was a child, the dishes I love. But I’ve been experimenting too. Right now, I’m interested in working with all kinds of different flours,” says Barban, who trained in Italy under Gualtiero Marchesi (a chef with a strong claim as the father of modern Italian cuisine) before she moved to New York to helm Chelsea Market’s pasta temple, Giovanni Rana.
“Whole-wheat, buckwheat… it’s amazing how much variety you can have,” Barban exclaims. “You should try the smoked spaghetti, with olive oil, chili, garlic, hazelnuts, and Calabrian chilies. It shows the way I think about my cooking tradition. The dish without the smoke is one of my lifetime favorites; it’s what you eat at midnight when you’ve been out drinking! But with the smoke, it’s a different idea. I make the pasta, then I smoke it over hickory wood, then I cook it, so it has a mysterious dark flavor to it.”
With sharing-sized pastas, opportunities for experimentation are built into the menu — which is rounded out by seasonal salads, meats and fish. A market section — “We call it the Laboratory,” Pelliccioni says — has house-made fresh pastas and a selection of other produce for people to take home. “Whatever we’re inspired by,” says Barban. “Right now we’re still very much finding our way — [by] selecting our produce, seeing what works for us.”
“The vibe is a little different to what you might expect,” admits Pelliccioni. “Obviously, it’s Italian. We do pasta, that’s not original for sure. But it’s a different feeling. There’s a lot of care, a lot of thought. It’s got a different spirit. That’s what I hope people get from this.”
“We’re really proud of our drinks menu too,” adds Barban. “I think it’s very important to the whole enjoyment of the meal. We have a lot of Italian wine, and we did a lot of research, which was fun, and found some natural wines that we love. We also have a big list of vermouth from all over the USA and Italy. I think you should start your meal with a vermouth while you look over the menu – just a little ice and an olive. If you love pasta, then you could do a tasting, or share some dishes with your friends. The lemon Gigli pasta with duck ragu and chicharrones is pretty popular at the moment… and the black pepper ravioli with mushrooms and marscapone.”
“We’re still seeing what this dream really becomes,” says Pelliccioni. “It wasn’t a big plan for us to do this. We’ve both worked with other restaurants a lot, and we’ve worked in other restaurants together, but since we both literally live right on the doorstep, we just felt that we couldn’t not. That’s what makes it truly special. It’s like home.”