Thursday, October 29, 2009

Casa Rosa: a proud Italian tradition just got better

By Marshall Slater

The corner of Court and Carroll streets in Carroll Gardens has been home to neighborhood Italian dining since 1944. It was in 1979 that the restaurant took the name Casa Rosa and, in 1996, was taken over by its current owner, Louis Catuogno. Indeed, the longevity of an Italian restaurant in a neighborhood that is Brooklyn’s equivalent to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx or Little Italy in Manhattan just cannot be underestimated.

While the corner boasts a long and proud culinary tradition, the Casa Rosa, which now occupies that address, welcomes a new generation with an entirely new look.

And while the surroundings have been dramatically upgraded and improved, the food, too — always and still a hallmark of excellence and creativity — has also been enhanced and diversified. Still staunchly and proudly Italian, the bill of fare has retained all of its old favorites, but enhances the truly diverse and expansive menu with a singular array of nightly specials.

For all its new enhancements, Casa Rosa remains a family affair, which still understands and administers the concept of customer service and consistency of excellence.

Louis is ably assisted by wife Antoinette and daughter, Gina Marie, who are complemented by an excellent staff who show a real dedication to making your visit a satisfying one. It’s an unhurried and relaxed place where you are the focal point of attention and where the food spans the spectrum from traditional to creatively delectable, forging new standards.

The wraparound corner dining room has been opened with bright windows; the dropped white tin ceiling remains. The dining room is big, open and airy, with starched white tablecloths and linens. The floor is gold flecked granite. Weathered brick or contrasting eggshell and light brown colors, with wood wainscoting, are illuminated by the tulip chandeliers.

The colored chalk menus specials board changes daily; there are typically at least a dozen additions to the menu. For instance, on this night the temptations ran the gamut from Stuffed Calamari Fra Diavolo with mussels and clams to Pork Chops with Broccoli Rabe and sweet peppers.

Begin the feast with the fresh eggplant appetizer. Thick and remarkably tender slices of eggplant are first prepared so that the cross hatching of the grill is branded into the butter soft slices. It is served over alternating thick slices of mozzarella cheese and sugar sweet and soft fresh red peppers in a sumptuous sweet balsamic; the dressing is so good that you will not leave a drop on the plate.

Choose also the Portobello mushrooms with are laden with melted gorgonzola cheese and served over superb tender fresh arugola leaves garnished with tomatoes. The succulent mushrooms is the perfect counterpoint to the cheese, which melts into every crevice in the cap, all of which is treated with the lightest of dressings.

Even a dish that is as commonplace as the Hot Antipasto is taken to new heights thanks to the top notch ingredients and the skills of the chef. There is a stuffed eggplant oozing cheese, snappy jumbo shrimp, clams and mussels oreganata; excellent mushrooms stuffed with chopped mushrooms and herbs, and even fresh artichokes.

A listing of other beginners to the feast include the Zuppa di Clams or Mussels, Mozzarella en Carrozza, Clams Casino and probably a dozen and a half others.

There are seven soups nightly, ranging from a hearty and thick Pasta e Fagioli to a more traditional Stracciatella alla Romana.

Not to be missed as a main dish or, better yet, as a middle choice when you are very hungry, are the pasta and risotto offerings.

From the former comes the homemade Gnocchi Rosa; the fluffy potato dumplings among the best you will ever taste, here enhanced with molten fresh mozzarella with a sweet tomato sauce. The handmade seafood ravioli are enormous; truly Herculean in size with a ruffled and scalloped perimeter that is so light it melts as it hits your tongue. The central area of these behemoths is crammed with an amalgam of shrimp and crabmeat all done in a white wine and light pink cream sauce.

The Linguine Fra Diavolo is served in a huge bowl that is piled high with clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari (truly tender, flavorful rings) all in that biting and delicious sauce.

To compound the complexity of your choices, consider the Linguine Casa Rosa with black olives, raisins and pignoli nuts or the Bucatini Filetto di Pomodoro with bacon and onions. There are two dozen others, plus risotto dishes, such as Risotto with fresh asparagus pieces and fine fresh mushrooms in a lush brown sauce, which seeps into the rice for an extra special treat.

Main dishes are equally as expansive. Recommended with extra kudos is the Chicken stuffed with asparagus, fresh strips of Portobello mushrooms and prosciutto in a brown brandy sauce with a touch of cream. Really, really delicious…the kind of sauce you lop up with the bread, and when the bread is gone, the kind of sauce you run your fork over so as not to miss a single drop.

The Grilled Veal Chop is marvelously tender and flavorful — and quite a generous size, thank you…grilled just right to allow natural juices to come to the fore. It is served over risotto, studded with Porcini mushrooms and fresh asparagus.

If your tastes run to the waters, you will be indulged, as well: Swordfish in a delicate pink marechiare sauce with clams and mussels; Salmon Livornese with capers, onions and olives in a light tomato sauce, and Scallops sautéed with garlic and oil. These are a trio that are joined by more than a dozen others on the regular menu, which are further bolstered by specials like the Chilean Sea Bass stuffed with crabmeat or the Grilled Red Snapper with capers and onions.

For the carnivore, how about a T-Bone topped with Portobello in a lush Barolo sauce or grilled lamb chops with roasted potatoes and onions?

You might find on the specials board Butterflied Veal Chop breaded and served over capriccio salad; Chicken Amaretto sliced with fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and fresh tomatoes in a brown sauce or Fusilli Mimosa with cream, peas and shrimp.

Even the side vegetables dishes are worthy of mention: superb escarole or spinach, for instance, studded with generous heaps of fresh grilled garlic. It is all delicately sautéed, not drenched in oil as is so common elsewhere.

Indeed, the kitchen is so confident and the staff so accommodating, Louis proudly boasts that they will accommodate any request, modify any dish or create any dish to whatever specifications a customer wishes. So, although it is quite unlikely you won’t find several favorites off the long menu, just let your imagination soar and they will turn your gastronomic dreams into reality.

Casa Rosa is rightfully proud of the care and uncompromising standards it puts into choosing its provisions. Freshness is key and a practiced eye to choosing the meats and seafood is obvious with every forkful of every dish you take.

But this should come as little of a surprise when you realize Louis’ history in the business. His family owned and operated Tom’s Meat Market at DeKalb and Adelphi for nearly six decades and he was weaned in the business, having started working there from the age of 12. In 1999, he sold the business and the property and brought his knowledge to the restaurant world.

Desserts are spotlighted in a confectioner’s carousel and include a homemade tirami su that is scrumptious; super thick slices of cake that is graced with dollops of chocolate covered whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Casa Rosa

384 Court Street, corner of Carroll; 718-625-8874 or 718-797-1907.

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner seven days; noon -10:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Private parties up to 95 are accommodated; outside catering is a specialty.Easy street parking after 6 p.m.Monday – Thursday, the dining room offers a three course meal for a price fixed $25.


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