There’s a particular charm that’s only found in a neighborhood place. For an intimate date night in New York, grab your sweetheart and light out for the rustic Italian mastery of Park Slope’s al di là. This is a family-run operation, which will be evident from the small scale and warm service. You may have the chance to chat up some neighbors, as al di là doesn’t take reservations, and a little Brooklyn sidewalk time is all part of the experience. When you do get in, take a moment to admire the distressed ceiling, which gives the interior the feel of a palace repurposed as a farmhouse. Low light and dark red accents up the romance.
Get things going with the unexpected combination of cuttlefish and oxtail, which blends savory meats with creamy polenta. Order the steamed mussels and face a dilemma: whether or not to dig into the garlicky bread at the bottom of the bowl. (Date night or not, it’s worth it.) Maybe you’re ready for a little wine now. The staff knows the vintages on a smart list forward and back. Pastas are classics, from a risotto of the day to the taut homemade black spaghetti, with a tangy red sauce and tender octopus confit. See who’s got the biggest sense of adventure as you work through Northern Italian mains like calf liver and braised rabbit. There will be no letdown when it’s time for dessert. Espresso “soup” makes the perfect offset for homemade vanilla ice cream and salty bits of almond praline. Don’t worry, the espresso is decaf. You have other ways of staying awake.