We were taken to Bamonte's by our friend George, whose family settled in Brooklyn before the revolutionary war. George grew up here and knows every street and eatery; and when we asked him where to find good Italian food, he didn't hesitate: "Bamonte's" was the answer. Not too fancy, but suave and comfortable, this is a place for cognoscenti. It is packed every night with New Yorkers who range from local families having big birthday parties to groups of cops in uniform; when we tell Al the parking-lot man that we drove all the way from Connecticut to eat here, he says, "That's nothing! We have people from Pennsylvania, too!"
No matter how far away from you it is, Bamonte's is worth the trip if you like classic Italian-American food. It's been in business since 1900 and is the kind of inconspicuous but masterful restaurant of which foodies dream. Once Al has found you a nice place to park in the adjacent lot, you enter through a long bar where locals meet and greet each other and watch whatever sports event is on that night. The dining room is lit by overhead chandeliers; tables are covered with soft white nappery; waiters are outfitted in tuxedos; and a glass wall at the rear of the dining room provides a view of the exhibition kitchen, where cooks in immaculate whites prepare the food. Along the wall next to each table is a buzzer for summoning the staff if you need help instantly; but service in this polished establishment is so swift and attentive that you'll never need to use it.
The multi-page menu includes pastas galore, including spectacularly good linguine with red clam sauce and penne pasta a la vodka. Start with mussels -- heaped into dish and ocean-sweet -- split a plate of homemeade ravioli, then slice into veal rollatini, monkfish oreganate, veal chops, or scallopine. Then top things off with superb tiramisu and a few cups of espresso. Whether or not you ask for it, a bottle of Sambuca is automatically brought to the table with the coffee.
On the way out, Al guided us out of the crowded parking lot and asked how we enjoyed the dishes he had recommended. As we drove away, we noticed old ladies sitting in their second-story windows looking out on the street at happy customers coming and going to this grand destination restaurant off the beaten path in Brooklyn.
"This is red-clam-sauce linguine. White sauce is available, too; and the rest of the pasta menu ranges from simple aglio olio to gnocchi and penne pasta a la vodka."
"A Bamonte's appetizer: homemade mozzarella rolled with proscuitto, salami, and basil leaves."
"Under the garlicky breading in each of these little shells is a whole, tender, sweet clam."
"At the back of the dining room, you can see the men in white putting together beautiful plates of food at a breakneck pace."
"Although the neighborhood itself doesn't feel all that warm and friendly, the moment you arrive at Bamonte's you feel like an honored guest. And rest assured that Al the parking lot guy will take good care of your vehicle while you dine!"