If 937 North Damen Avenue is cursed (the carousel of restaurants that has made short-term homes here suggests it is), you’d never know it from the brisk business Briciola was doing a few weekends ago. The indoor portion of the space (which has previously housed Dodo, Jam and Sweet Cakes) was completely spoken for, and despite this being one of those awful 102-degree nights, the expansive garden filled up, too. The crowds were not just thick but diverse: A quick, unscientific scan suggested these weren’t just Ukrainian Village folks. People had traveled from other neighborhoods, maybe even the suburbs, to eat here.
That’s not always a good sign. Sometimes people scramble to get into a restaurant precisely because of how unremarkable it is—they seek unobtrusive, familiar flavors, food that won’t challenge them. Maybe such food allows them to focus more on their companions. After all, at Briciola, there’s no fear that a conversation will be halted by somebody cooing over a ribbon of pasta. Likewise, nobody will interrupt the table to complain. And the pickiest eaters will probably just shrug. This is straightforward food à la Francesca’s (another place you won’t be able to get into on a Friday night)—it’s not worth making a fuss over.
Fritto misto is light and crunchy, but that’s where the adjectives—and the flavor—stop. Beet carpaccio (from the carpaccio section of the menu, naturally) is simple to the point of boring and topped with balls of fried goat cheese, or what more accurately might be called pre-fried goat cheese, as what I experienced was only lukewarm and had a rubberish quality. Pappardelle is made in-house (as are a few of the other pastas) and the texture is right on: both soft and firm, topped with a simple tomato-based “pink” sauce that’s sprightly and a little sweet. People who seek comfort in pasta will probably feel they’ve found a friend. And though a fried pork chop topped with arugula and Parm is so enormous it extends beyond the borders of the plate, it’s a dish that is almost unnoticeable. The pork is tender but seasoned so mildly that to approach it as anything more than straightforward sustenance would be to cast it in a disappointing light. So the crowd here doesn’t. Even in the muggy, wet heat of a sweaty night, the Briciola crowd eats it all up.