Futura Bistro Modern, a restaurant in an
ungentrified strip of Park Slope’s Ninth Street, possesses one
thing no eatery in Brooklyn has: a chandelier so grand it could
have graced the ballroom of the Titanic.
The fixture, lit by hundreds of bulbs and covered by thousands of draped crystal beads, is an odd and strangely beautiful touch. The rest of the room is contemporary yet warm with 21st-century touches like lipstick red, tulip-shaped bar stools and enormous expressionist paintings.
This combining of new and aged is the leitmotif of this five-month-old eatery, owned by chef Lisa Lo Bue and her husband, Giovanni Iovine. (The couple also owns the Greenwich Village Italian canteen, Borgo Antico.) Partner Davor "Dado" Petrovic, who manages the dining room, joins them in this venture. Joining Lo Bue in the kitchen is her mother, Bella Lo Bue, who turns out the restaurant’s desserts, and her father, Carlos, who works the grill.
Lo Bue is Argentinean, while Iovine is an Italian expat. Their menu is a 50/50 split between each of their homelands, with a couple of Greek and Spanish touches rounding out the fare. When Lo Bue crosses boundaries, pairing Spanish and Italian, or Greek and Italian ingredients for instance, she does it gracefully.
Begin the meal with a spread made of feta cheese and sundried tomatoes, a pink, salty and bright blend that’s great slathered on soft slices of Italian bread.
Lo Bue’s empanadas, flaky and light renditions of this crescent-shaped Argentinean pastry, are excellent; one vegetable and one meat combination are served as a starter. I’d pass on the bland spinach and order two with the sweetish beef filling.
If you enjoy sardines, you’ll appreciate Lo Bue’s rendition. She serves four of the firm little fish rolled around slices of ripe tomato. Each bundle is dipped into a heady oil bath flavored with garlic and cilantro.
The frisee salad with roasted pear makes a perfect light prelude to the entree. The slightly bitter, curly greens are tossed in just enough gorgonzola cheese dressing to give them a bit of a bite, then sprinkled with crisp walnuts and tiny squares of salty, crisp pancetta (Italian bacon). A half of the tender fruit is fanned out near the greens, lending a sweet note and playful counterpart to the ingredients. It’s an updated, sprightly spin on the spinach, bacon and bleu cheese salads of the past, which were delicious but heavy going.
The best starter is the simplest: slices of nutty, smoky Serrano ham, a Spanish country ham that’s cured for a year or more. Paper-thin pieces are coupled with a round of provolone cheese that’s baked until it’s gooey and its top is crusty. Wedged between slices of Italian bread, it makes the world’s finest ham and cheese sandwich. A few pungent olives add a welcome saline note to the ingredients.
Any of the red wines on the short, well-chosen and reasonably priced list would pair well with the dish. (Most reds fall in the $30-$35 range; whites $26 to $30.) Or, have the waiter bring a carafe of the fruity sangria to the table.
The entrees, while carefully prepared and served in abundant portions, weren’t as successful as the appetizers. A special of gnocchi (tiny Italian dumplings), mixed with sauteed zucchini and ringed with clams in the shell, proved monotonous after a few bites. Each of the elements was fine - the pasta toothsome, the vegetables still somewhat crisp and the mollusks fresh and tender; together though, there was no spark.
I can say the same for the pairing of delicious sausages and small, delicately flavored white beans that should couple naturally, but were strangely bland together. The links - one bold and crisp-skinned made of wild boar, and a milder one that blended rabbit and veal - were great on their own, but overpowered the beans.
Bella offers a different "semifreddo" each week that shouldn’t be missed. The dessert is airy yet creamy, somewhere between a mousse and gelato. The strawberry-ginger tasted of fresh berries brightened and made spicy with bits of the crystallized root. It’s terrific. I’ll have to return to sample her bitter chocolate-jalapeno or the tart/sweet apple-raspberry flavors.
In the spring, the upper level of the two-level Futura Bistro Modern will open to the sky, providing a secluded, al fresco experience for 40 lucky patrons. Add that to the chandelier for novelty dining in the borough.
Futura Bistro Modern (287 Ninth St. between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Park Slope) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $9-$21. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily. Brunch is offered from noon to 4 pm on weekends. For reservations, call (718) 832-0085.