The scallops look like something out of a monster movie. They're huge, even when sliced thinly, and swimming in their own half shell in a slippery sea of yogurt and olive oil. A lashing of bloodred chile powder across the top heightens their angry appeal, but then you take a bite, and things are cool and creamy, sweet and slightly fruity.
The yogurt is made from lightly fermented coconut milk, turns out, and the chiles are Espelettes, more mild than hot. The oil is the rich, buttery stuff from Liguria, while those fat scallops hail from much closer shores. That this dish exists, let alone works, is almost a bigger surprise than the fact that you're eating it while cozily ensconced in industrial East Williamsburg, on the border of Bushwick.
Raw scallop | chef Vinicius Campos
Welcome to Fitzcarraldo, which opened about a year and a half ago on a barren stretch of Morgan Avenue (yes, it's named for the Werner Herzog film). You may have missed it. Fitzcarraldo's arrival preceded that of nearby Arrogant Swine, but there's still virtually no foot traffic in this part of Bushwick, and its owners, who also run solid neighborhood spot Rucola in Boerum Hill, rarely appear in the spotlight. They've found the right chef to cement another local gem, Vinicius (Vinny) Campos, whose food, while unflashy, unfolds slowly and dreamily, like the hazy jungle in which Herzog's film is set.
The menu is mostly Ligurian, the narrow crescent of Northern Italy that's surrounded by both the mountains and the sea; the cuisine there is based around legumes, mushrooms, game and seafood (and pesto. A lot of pesto.). Campos's menu features many of these ingredients, in dishes like roasted hedgehog mushrooms with chestnut polenta ($15) and farinata ($9), a giant chickpea flour pancake baked in an individual pan and swiped here with pesto and roasted tomatoes (though on the streets of Genoa, it's dusted with nothing more than sea salt and rosemary). There are imported cheeses and domestic salumi, including an arrestingly aromatic "gin and juice" salume ($9) from Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis, cured with juniper berries and orange zest.
Campos loosens up on the five-course tasting menu, which, for $45, is an undeniable steal. This is where the creature-from-the-black-lagoon-looking raw scallop appeared, along with those hedgehog mushrooms served this time on a bed of dwarf kidney beans laced, almost imperceptibly, with preserved marinated eggplant and oat husks, which Campos strips from the crusts of his daily bread delivery. There might be a meaty hunk of Jersey-caught albacore tuna atop chewy grains tossed in a sweet short rib and black garlic sauce ("I'm most interested in seafood," Campos said, and it shows.), and a simply grilled skirt steak, sliced dramatically into triangles and draped over caramelized parsnips slathered in miso.
It's tough to grow wheat in Liguria's rocky soil, so pasta isn't necessarily traditional, but since you're dining in Bushwick and not in the Old Country, do yourself a favor and order the cacio e pepe orecchiette ($12), even if you get the tasting menu. It's a creamy, comforting gut bomb of a dish, shot through with a whip of black pepper strong enough to send your taste buds reeling.
Fitzcarraldo is a study in contradictions in that way: The food is rooted partially in tradition and partially in the avant-garde, in a romantic space strewn with hanging plants in the middle of industrial Bushwick. Just go with it. Like building an opera house in the jungle, it's a crazy idea. But unlike the doomed antihero of Herzog's film, it works.
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