Plated recipe editor Rachael Stuart gives us the lowdown on the Culinary team’s latest field trip.
In the Plated Test Kitchen, we keep a running list of New York City restaurants we’re dying to try (across multiple boroughs) and mark our calendars weeks in advance for a long lunch or leisurely weeknight dinner. This time, in search of some much-needed Italian inspiration, we headed to Il Porto in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, eager to try the brick oven pizzas and saucy pastas they’re most known for. (Chef Suzanne also preemptively demanded that we order a Grandma pizza, because it’s no secret that the chefs on our team are all Italian nonnas at heart!)
We’re not sure how long Il Porto’s been in the neighborhood, but it’s got that old-school vibe, complete with a chalkboard full of daily specials scrawled in Italian, and peeling murals covering the walls. We walked through the first door we could find and were met with a sweeping pizza counter, stacked with cardboard to-go boxes and a few sparse tables and chairs. A few steps further to the back and through a side hallway, we entered the main dining room, with plenty of large tables and a quiet back bar blessed with the presence of cable television (yes, some of us got the watch “The Chew” while we lunched). Most of the patrons seemed to be local workers on a quick lunch break, grabbing a slice or trying to squeeze in just one glass of wine before heading back to the office.
First, we gave an enthusiastic “Yes!” when they asked if we wanted bread. The tables were set with big bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar—plus shakers of dried oregano, crushed cayenne pepper, and grated Parmesan—so it was fun to make our own individual dipping plates (and to experience the struggle of not filling up on bread before the main eating event).
As is our new tradition on these field trips, we ordered everything family-style (perfect at an Italian restaurant, no?) so that we could taste lots of different things and share the leftover wealth with our coworkers. We chose to start with frittura di calamari, classic deep-fried rings of squid, with fresh lemon juice squeezed over and a simple marinara sauce for dipping. The insalata di tonno (above) also caught our attention—mostly for the balanced pairing of smoked tuna, thinly sliced fennel, and simply dressed arugula. Smoky, peppery, and acidic all joined forces in every forkful.
On the pasta menu, we’d been eyeing the penne il porto, with its creamy vodka sauce and tender bits of asparagus tossed with shrimp. But lately, Chef Elana’s been dreaming of a similar pasta dish with pink sauce and salmon. The waitstaff graciously accepted our request to make the swap, and to our credit, it yielded seriously delicious, super-rich results. Spoiler alert: Elana’s inspired recipe is now in the testing phase, and will feature green peas for a pop of spring!
Here’s what you really clicked on this post to read about: The three pizzas. The al diavolo features thinly sliced sausage, broccoli rabe, fresh basil, and pickled hot cherry peppers atop a melty bed of mozzarella. Because we’re obsessed with all things Caesar, the Cesare pizza (pictured) is a hands-down must-order, since it’s piled high with crunchy romaine, curls of shaved Parmesan, thinly sliced grilled chicken, plenty of tangy Caesar dressing, and croutons. Cheers to bread topped with more bread! Last but certainly not least, this is the pie that we wolfed down and didn’t have a single slice left to share: the classic Grandma. Old-fashioned thin crust is rolled into a rectangular shape and baked with gooey mozzarella until the crust’s edges are golden and crispy, then zig-zagged with splotches of fresh tomato sauce, basil, glugs of olive oil, and fresh cheese. Expect Plated versions of at least two of these pizzas to make their way into upcoming boxes…
We also somehow had room to sample four different desserts. The most noteworthy is the homemade tiramisu, with its exquisitely sweet layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone whipped cream, and cocoa powder. Oh, and we almost always end our gut-busting gastronomic tours with a shot of espresso—it helps cleanse the palate, promotes digestion, and definitely ensures we don’t slip into a deeply unproductive food coma when we get back to Plated HQ.
For more on past Culinary field trips, check out our visit to Hillstone (and let us know if how you liked the dishes that made it to the Plated menu!)