Owned and operated by Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg (of the ever-popular Franny’s and Bklyn Larder), Marco’s opened up in the original Franny’s space on Flatbush Avenue last year, and expectations were high. After all, Stephens and Feinberg pretty much put this part of Brooklyn on the culinary map, and ten years in, dining at Franny’s can still involve a 45-minute-plus wait, even at 9pm on a Wednesday. But while it might have seemed like Marco’s would be an instant, runaway hit based on the success of Franny’s—and it certainly had more immediate attention lavished on it than most debut restaurants do—the last year has been a quieter one for Marco’s than was perhaps anticipated. Oh, sure, it’s still hard to get a table at a moment’s notice in the lovely, thoughtfully decorated room on many nights, but it’s also possible on some nights to walk right in and get seated—something that rarely happens at Franny’s unless it’s 5pm on a Tuesday. (And even then, you never know!) So, in the interest of checking in with Marco’s just over a year after it opened (and in the interest of feeding ourselves some of the best oysters in the borough), we stopped by for dinner the other night—and we left promising ourselves to go back again soon.
The first time we went to Marco’s was in January of this year, and the place was buzzing: Mark Bittman held court over a party of six at the table next to us, and the energy in both the dining room and the open kitchen felt electric (or, we guess, wood-fired). Over the next few months as we stopped by occasionally for dinner or brunch, and things settled down into a quieter hum. It’s not that Marco’s fell off our radar, exactly, but in recent months we hadn’t given it as much thought as we had when it opened. That all changed when we went to sample some of the restaurant’s new antipasti options last week. Among the offerings, plump and perfectly briny wood-grilled oysters with tomato confit and sharp hits of black pepper, luscious chicken liver pâté with tart-sweet Jupiter grapes on bread, and creamy eggs with shaved bottarga all stood out as being ideal examples of what we want to nibble on pre-dinner. But what about that dinner?
We returned to Marco’s on Wednesday: cold and rainy, it finally felt like fall was in full effect, so where would we rather be than a place with a wood-fired oven? Nowhere. After sampling buttery Castelvetrano olives lightly dusted with fennel pollen and sipping a Rittenhouse rye-based cocktail (a touch of syrupy, this is the perfect drink to linger over), we devoured the oysters and chicken liver that had been sampled the week before, and practically licked the plate after inhaling fried rounds of delicata squash that were covered in honey and shavings of parmesan. Next was chitarra pasta, perfectly al dente naturally, with sweet, succulent shrimp, spicy bits of chili, and shaved bottarga. I’d like to pretend that the sauce at the bottom of the bowl wasn’t spooned up and eaten like soup, but I’d be lying. I did manage to prevent myself from gnawing on the bones from the lamb chops Milanese, but only barely. Dinner was topped off by one of the best desserts we’d had in some time—a honey semifreddo with sesame seeds, cocoa nibs, and a delicious plum compote, each texture and taste (and even temperature!) beautifully balancing out all the others.
Everyone knows that new restaurants are born every day in Brooklyn, and that most won’t make it much past—or even to—their first year. But many of us stop paying attention to those restaurants that do manage to make it, yet don’t have the same amount of hype surrounding them that they did at the start. There are reasons for this, of course: a place might be all buzz, no substance; quality can most assuredly decline; owners’ attention gets diverted and the business suffers. What we found at Marco’s though was pretty much the opposite: the food was as strong as at the beginning, quality in everything from the food to the servers (all wonderful!) was higher than ever, and it’s clear from the thoughtful menu changes that both Stephens and Feinberg are still keeping a watchful eye on Marco’s. Add it all up and you don’t just get a great restaurant, you get what is easily one of the best restaurants in Brooklyn.
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