Hidden in Brookline Village is Pomodoro, a little restaurant that you’d swear was meant for the North End. Perhaps that’s because the original Pomodoro is, in fact, on Hanover Street in the North End, a tiny place with eight tables and amazing Italian food.
The Brookline Village location is bigger and more chic, with exposed brick, gentle earth tones, and a slick bar anchoring the center of the table space. Jazz standards croon gently in the background. One can picture herself at that swanky bar, sipping a glass of Italian red or a cocktail like the Italian margarita, featuring housemade infused tequila.
Pomodoro is a restaurant that requires some concessions. It’s cash only, so plan ahead or make a quick amble down to the ATM. The excessively straight-backed seating isn’t the most comfortable. But no restaurant should require patrons to concede to poor service. Our server was emphatically disinterested and borderline rude: slamming plates down and remaining monosyllabic through our attempts at conversation.
Service notwithstanding, the small touches that begin the meal are a pleasure: the carafe of water spiked with lemon and mint left on your table, the platter of chewy bread, the dish of fruity, mellow olive oil and assorted olives. And as enjoyable as all that is, it’s just the beginning.
The Italian version of bread salad is known as panzanella, an excellent way to showcase fresh produce. Pomodoro’s version gives us sunny flavors working in harmony with each other: smoky grilled bread, peppery arugula, sweet tomatoes, sharp notes of red onion, and the tang of a light dressing. It’s the very essence of summer.
Braised meatballs of beef, pork, and veal are rich and moist, and adorned with a luscious tomato sauce. The restaurant takes its name from the illustrious tomato, and with good reason. The sauce here is round and resonant, a natural complement to, well, pretty much anything.
Entrees are creative comfort food with choices for everyone, like eggplant parmesan, a roasted half chicken with truffled mash and haricot verts, and grilled sirloin steak with fingerlings and broccoli rabe. Al dente spaghetti carbonara is served with pancetta and flavorful shreds of roasted chicken, in a creamy white sauce with garlic.
Herb-grilled swordfish is moist all the way through but heavy on the char flavor, over a bed of couscous that tastes like it was simmered in a corn stock. It’s served with a caponata with pine nuts, golden raisins, and summer vegetables.
If you had the willpower to save room for dessert, try the rich panna cotta made with vanilla bean and buttermilk, with a tart and fruity blackberry glaze and housemade biscotti. Other desserts beckon temptingly, like the warm fig bread pudding or the espresso semifreddo with chocolate sauce.
In the end, the magnificent Italian food and delightful cocktails outweigh the letdowns, though to elevate themselves to a higher level, Pomodoro ought to plan some hospitality training. Perhaps I ought to bear those required concessions in mind and concede to some take-out instead.
Pomodoro Brookline is open daily from 11:00am-11:00pm; lunch served until 4:00pm, dinner menu available all day. 24 Harvard Street, Brookline. Cash only. 617-617-4455.