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River Deli, Brooklyn Heights

We stopped at River Deli on Joralemon for dinner on Friday night on one of those best and loveliest evenings. We were reluctant to miss a minute of it, but their doorway beckoned, appealingly cozy even on a warm evening.. There were a fair number of strollers to be breached, but the place had a comfortable elbow room.

We started with a generous salumi and cheese platter (okay, there were two sizes and we ordered the larger). At $15 it was impressive; served on a wooden platter the meats and cheeses, scattered with olives, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, orange wedges and some really nice cantaloupe. Nice counterpoint. There was also a flatbread that looked uninteresting but actually had plenty of character, a traditional Sardinian flat bread called pane carasau.

After the salumi we knew we weren’t going to make it past the primi, so we ordered those: a lasagna for me, traditional and as good as I have had recently, and malloredus sardi alla campidanese for him. This was a short Sardinian pasta, saffron-flavored, with sausage, tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. We had to work around the malodorous-sounding name and the pasta that looked rather like a plateful of grubs, but it was really good. These were both primi-sized, not an entrée if you have an appetite, but after that meat platter we weren’t feeling cheated.

We like the feel of the place but I really think they might have punched up the name, famous or not. It reminded us of a kinder, gentler Frankie's 457.

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River Deli
32 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

 
 
 
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  1. Nice review, thank you.

    If it is good it doesn't matter what it is called. Noodle Pudding has shown us that. Must be a Brooklyn Heights thing.

    I passed by River Deli on Saturday while strolling through the Heights. Talked breifly to Andrea, the owner. Looks great and the prices seem reasonable. Looking forward to giving it a try very soon.

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    Noodle Pudding
    38 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

    River Deli
    32 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

    12 Replies
    1. re: boccalupo

      I'll be curious to see what you think. My wife and I have tried it twice. Despite our *really* wanting to like it (we live very near by) we found it severely lacking both times. I'm happy to detail our gripes but before I pile up the complaints I'm curious as to whether I'm the minority here. Any other opinions out there?

      1. re: Peter

        We've been a number of times, as have others we know in the immediate neighborhood. It gets an A+ for ambience, friendliness, service & price point. The food is more uneven, with some things that are nicely done and others that arent so well thought out or executed. When Noodle Pudding started, it was much the same mixed bag & I hope that the owners here (who are great) do as well in developing this place as Tony did there. I think they will.

        As an aside, the prices are still low enough that it cant really be compared to NP or higher end places. I cant think of a better $10 bowl of pasta or another place serving 4 large mixed bruchetta for $6.

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        Noodle Pudding
        38 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

        1. re: Steve R

          Steve-

          Thanks for weighing in. Our experience on our two visits are roughly the same. A- for effort and ambiance, C for service, and everything from A+ to F for the actual food. As far as value, for the dishes that were excellent, the price can't be beat. For the dishes that were underwhelming, the prices seems acceptable. For the dishes that bordered on inedible, well, obviously the price is too high.

          FYI, the mussels I had there a week ago might be the best mussels I ever had. At first I was annoyed that it was only 16 mussels -- so stingy! And then I saw that it was only an appetizer. And priced at $8 at that. So they're actually an *excellent* value. Now if only they'd offer 40 mussels for $15 as an entree and I'd be set.

          -Peter

          1. re: Peter

            Which dishes that you had bordered on inedible? I would like to avoid those when I go and stick with the good stuff.

            So far looking at getting the cheese and salumi, mussels and maloreddus. Anything else that you found to be top notch?

            1. re: boccalupo

              The fish we once got was so overcooked and dry as to literally be inedible. We were never able to get the attention of the waitstaff -- by the time they noticed we left our food uneaten the kitchen had closed.

              (A lack of attentiveness isn't the only service problem we've had. One night one of my 2 dishes never arrived.)

              On both visits our salads were well composed, but so under-dressed that we questioned whether they *were* dressed. The first time they brought us more dressing upon request. The second time they brought us oil and vinegar -- which wasn't the dressing on that salad at all so it didn't really solve the problem. (The salad being under-dressed is a critique that a friend offered the owner during a friends and family dinner. A shame it's still a problem so many weeks later.)

              I found the lasagna to be...ok, but not even close to Noodle Pudding or even to Armando.

              The ravioli, despite allegedly being homemade, had a chewiness/guminess that implied that they were not fresh at all, but previously frozen. And I'm not talking about a toothiness one would attribute to being al dente.

              Speaking of frozen, the chocolate cake we got on our first visit was literally frozen in the middle -- ice crystals. So again, not so homemade.

              Hmmm.... in retrospect, we've had 7 dishes I recall. 2 salads, 2 pastas, 2 seafoods and a dessert. 6 of those 7 were not good (as detailed above.) The only good thing (and it was excellent) was the mussels I mentioned in my previous post.

              I guess I have a more positive view of the place because I *want* it to succeed so badly.

              What about everyone else? What have you had that you liked or didn't like?

              -Peter

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              Noodle Pudding
              38 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

              1. re: Peter

                After posting that *long* account above my wife and I promptly walked out the door for dinner and ended up at... River Deli.

                We ordered a small meat platter, a spinach salad, 2 order of mussels and a glass of wine. Grand total? $45 before tip.

                How was it?

                The salad was well dressed this time. And big. Lots of spinach. Nice crisp slices of apple. A bit of cheese. I liked it. She really liked it. I feel like it was 1 ingredient short?

                The meat platter was a good value for the money but a bit underwhelming. Some of the meat and cheese choices feel a bit unsophisticated.

                The mussels? More for the order this time -- my first time I got 16 mussels which seemed a bit stingy. This time it was 20 or 21. Last time they were an A+++. This time? B+ -- too much salt in the broth. But still, quite good, especially for the price.

                Oh, and we sat at the bar so service was a lot better this time.

                I'm curious, has anyone had the steak? How is it?

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                River Deli
                32 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

                1. re: Peter

                  "The meat platter was a good value for the money but a bit underwhelming. Some of the meat and cheese choices feel a bit unsophisticated."

                  It would be useful to compare the meat and cheese platter at River Deli with the meat platter at Il Posto Accanto in the East Village. The price, $15, is the same. The quality level is higher at Il Posto but the portion is about 30% of what you get at River Deli and you don't get any cheeses (or melon, olives, and flat bread.) I thought the quality level of the platter at RD to be pretty good. Not stellar, but pretty good, especially for the price.

                  I'm posting pictures - I think you can guess which is which. Sometimes you just want more.

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                  River Deli
                  32 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

                   
                   
                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                    Bob, thanks for the photos. Indeed, it looks like it's a question of quantity vs. quality. Your photo makes my point clear -- some of the meats at River Deli look like rolled-up slices of Boar's Head cold cuts. Heck, Garden of Eden has 30 kinds of cured Italian meats -- River Deli should head on over and sample a few.

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                    Garden of Eden
                    180 Montague St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

                    River Deli
                    32 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

        2. re: Peter

          Peter,I ate dinner there over the weekend with a small group and I pretty much share your opinion.

          Most of the dishes were acceptable, but we did steer clear of the dishes that you were not so fond of.

          Your visual assessment of the cheese and salumi platter in your post below is accurate. I would have preferred quality over quanitity. Nothing interesting or special here.

          The mussels were decent. But I tend to prefer mussels served in a broth. These seemed sauteed in garlic and oil, with no broth for dipping.

          The two bottles of Sardinian wine we had were of good quality, but served much too warm.

          The maloreddus pasta dish is fine, but nothing (except the typically Sardinan pasta shape) you cannot find elsewhere.

          There was an octupus salad that was on special that some previous diners had thought was the highlight of their meal. However, they had run out of the dish by the time we had ordered.

          A nice panna cotta was probably the best thing we had all night.

          I would say that they need to pay closer attention to have their wines are stored, get better quality and/or more interesting salumi and cheeses. Also they really didn't have too much on the menu that was typically Sardianian. Adding several typical Sardo dishes like pasta alla bottarga would we most welcome.

          The place is rather new and very cute. There is a lot of room for improvement here, so let's see how things develop.

          1. re: boccalupo

            Just wanted to add another of my 2cents here, as we went back on Sat eve for another meal. I cant say that I disagree with the meat/cheese assessment but, for some, the quantity of decent food trumps the need for more quality offerings. What I saw was much like Bob M's picture & it is not anything I'm dying to order, although its far from unacceptable.

            However, a couple of things werent mentioned and should be. First of all, the mussels we had were in a very flavorful, rich (well, buttery and garlic-y) broth and we used a lot of bread mopping up. So did the couple next to us at the bar. I think they're uneven and need to improve on consistancy if yours was without much broth. Secondly, there were 2 specials on the board and one of them looked very interesting (the couple on my other side had it)... layers of the sardinian flat bread softened and served in a large bowl with tomato sauce and a poached egg. Some cheese too I think. They seemed to enjoy it. And, thirdly, you (boccalupo) either mentioned it to the owners or he's just on your wavelength... he said he was probably putting pasta alla bottarga on the specials board sometime this week if his bottarga order comes in. He sounded very happy about expanding with some specials now that the place has some footing & I really do believe there's potential in this place.

            BTW... we asked the bartender to chill the wine for us for 5 minutes and it was fine. She agreed that they're serving it too warm but they seem to have a space problem and no wine cooler in a room that's naturally too warm. We'll see what happens here as well.

            1. re: Steve R

              The special dish you describe with the layered Sardian flatbread is called pane frattau. Very traditional. With the Sardianian flatbread (pane carasau) softened in boiling water and becoming more akin to a pasta dish. A good sign if they are offering that.

              1. re: boccalupo

                That's what it was. $14 for what looked like a healthy portion. I'm looking forward to the bottarga and other offerings. We spoke to the (male) owner about a similar couple-run Sardinian restaurant in San Fran. (La Ciccia) that my wife and I really liked when visiting this past spring and he knew it and said he was thinking about doing more of what they've done.... introducing specific Sardinian dishes to the area. I hope he does.

      2. Went there last night for the first time. We are 10 year customers of Noodle Pudding (which we are closer to), so naturally our comparisons leaned that way. The fried calamari appetizer was just a notch below NP's, but I preferred the lasagna last night over the same dish I've had at NP. There is a particular herb/spice in NP's version (yet unidentified) that I just don't care for. My dining companion had the pappardelle with mushrooms, and she loved it. We split the tiramasu, and we split opinions on it.

        River Deli is definitely a calmer eating experience (tables further apart, views of the Belgian block street or the open kitchen, and simply not as noisy as NP), but they have some issues to deal with. As mentioned by others, the red wine is served too warm, and for some reason the port was refrigerated. As at NP, Cash only.

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        Noodle Pudding
        38 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

        River Deli
        32 Joralemon St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

        1 Reply
        1. re: EatDrinkMan

          bechamel. Found in many traditional recipes for lasagna... I dont like it either.

          The pappardelle w/mushrooms at R.Deli is one of the items that I think is a real winner. They've had bottarga for the past week or so as well, but I havent had the chance to sample it. It's nice to have a 2nd local Italian place to go to, although I'm getting more fond of Bocca Lupo as well.

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          Bocca Lupo
          391 Henry St, Brooklyn, NY 11201