Too many choices foil Salas ambitions
Italian eatery in Brooklyn could fine-tune its menu
The bevy of crystal chandeliers might first catch your attention at Sala, a new Italian restaurant in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Suspended from the ceiling like a flock of pi–atas at some lucky child's birthday party, each pretty chandelier Ñ all imported from Italy Ñ possesses its own character.
In that way, the food at Sala, with its daunting list of choices, mimics the lamps.
Sala, the Italian term for living room, is Eugen and Lenor Bingham's second restaurant. Over the years, they have established the romantic Il Piatto, also in Southeast, as a favorite date destination.
The transformation of Sala's space, which used to house LuLu's Diner, is astounding. It's at its most comely at lunchtime, when the daylight accentuates the white-tiled floor and sage banquettes. The color scheme emits the restorative qualities of a day spa, and there are inspired touches, such as the heavy, antique silver salt and pepper shakers that decorate some of the tables.
By night, the cool hues can seem a bit too chilly, but you can always cozy up in the sexy little bar a few steps up from the compact dining room.
For such an elegant setting, the food is overly rustic and heavy. Sala achieves true, bold flavors and inventive combinations, but an explosion of ingredients weighs down several dishes.
For example, the first few bites of an almond-and-cornmeal crusted chicken breast stuffed with leeks and mozzarella in a Madeira demi-glace over polenta are satisfying and interesting, but halfway through the plate, the mingling tastes become too much. Even the written descriptions of this and other dishes are exhausting.
More delicate attempts, such as an appetizer of clams steamed in a red pepper-white wine broth, succeed at delivering just the right amount of flavor excitement. A simple arrangement of conch shell pasta stuffed with fresh mozzarella and spinach gets an unexpected, but welcome, spike from saffron in the tomato sauce.
And Sala certainly has mastered risotto and ravioli. Whether made with basil pesto or wild mushrooms, the risotto sings, and the raviolis are firm, with a changing variety of cheese, meat and vegetable stuffings.
A deep wine list, mostly Italian and French, and a full bar complement the lengthy menu. Service is friendly, if a bit spacey and slow at times. It could especially stand to be speedier at lunch, when most people don't have time to linger.
With its hefty portions, reasonable prices and lovely interior, there's no doubt that Sala offers a solid value. But it could be so much more by doing less. No fewer than nine appetizers, five salads, nine pastas, 10 entrees and six side dishes confront and confound diners.
While choice is a very good thing, this excess of options is distracting and ultimately results in lesser-quality meals than Bingham is probably capable of producing. By perfecting a smaller range of specialties Ñ say, cutting the menu in half Ñ Sala would double its draw.