Spasso: Where The Pasta's The Thing

On the fourth day of its official existence, this is not always what a New York restaurant looks like late on a weeknight: the bar and tables are jammed shoulder to shoulder with the hungry. The place is so overbooked with reservations that the only shot at a bite to eat is a more than hour-long wait for a seat at a woefully small counter in the back of the room.

What a difference a favorable pre-opening feature in the New York Times dining section weeks before a restaurant opens makes. Well, and the fact that the owner’s beloved other restaurant, Choptank, has been closed for a spell no thanks to a flood, leaving its fans yearning.

Never able to resist checking out a restaurant in its infancy, however, we decided to stick it out at Spasso, a place that opened in the first days of January in the West Village. Restaurateur Bobby Werhane has earned some decent stripes with his Maryland-style seafood over at Choptank, after all. And Spasso’s chef Craig Wallen himself has dished out some solid Italian at Convivio, L’Impero and Lupa in his previous lives.

A 60-minute wait? As some might say: Meh.
[Read more…]

Ciano: A Night to Remember


IMG_6566

The idea had been to have dinner, plain and simple.

No thinking about writing about the dishes as we're eating. No scribbling of notes. No blogging. This was a celebration, after all. There should be no room at the table for work of any sort.

But the moment our food started arriving, the game plan changed. Ciano, the much-anticipated new restaurant by Shea Gallante (who greatly impressed critics and diners at the now-shuttered Cru, where he earned three stars from The New York Times' Frank Bruni), pretty much had me at shrimp balls.

From my first nibble of rock shrimp polpette ($8 for five), the deliciously warm one-inch balls stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, I was hooked. Out came the paper and pen and off we were …

[Read more…]

Vino Rosina: The New Italian On The Block


IMG_4959 

Years ago, I found myself creeping along the quiet streets of a swath near Baltimore's Little Italy, squinting through the darkness as I tried to find Charleston, a restaurant that had been highly recommended.

Even though this roughly eight-block area was flanked by the perennially packed and fratty Fells Point on one side and the touristy Inner Harbor on the other at the time, its streets were still largely undeveloped in the late 1990s. Charleston, a Southern-inflected French restaurant, was an early adopter in the neighborhood and once we'd located it, we were glad we went. The meal was phenomenal and it was thrilling to be at a place that felt like it was on the cusp of something larger.

The husband and I recently returned to Baltimore for a short visit and decided to trek to Charleston to take a look at the place where we'd had one of the first romantic dinners of our courtship. The restaurant, helmed by the talented Cindy Wolf in the kitchen, is still there and hopping but the area around it has since become unrecognizable. Now named Harbor East, the area has sprouted gleaming condiminium, office and hotel buildings and has become as packed with restaurants, cafes and bars as its nearby neighborhoods. (You can check out a piece I wrote for the New York Times Travel section this past weekend on Harbor East here.)

Amid the current hubbub, a new little place caught our eye: Vino Rosina, a modern Italian restaurant in the Bagby Furniture Company Building, a historic red-brick structure that used to be a factory. Outside on the street, we could hear laughter wafting out along with the intoxicating smells of oven-roasted meats. So of course, we decided to step in and give the place a whirl …

[Read more…]

Lincoln: A Dazzler of A Show


IMG_5660

It's been hard to ignore only the Most Significant Restaurant Opening in New York so far this year.

Since Jonathan Benno announced he would be leaving Per Se for Lincoln, an upscale Italian restaurant the Patina Restaurant Group was opening at Lincoln Center, the stories and blog items have been unceasing. Weeks before the restaurant opened late last month, the city's food Web sites were already aflutter with anticipation. Just days after it opened, food blogs were filled with photos of its eggplant parmesans and breathless accounts of transcendent meals there.

It's difficult to live up to such hype, but Benno, his crew and the beautifully sculpted setting, complete with a modern glass-walled kitchen in the heart of it all, they do it in spades.

[Read more…]

Eataly (Il Pesce): A Mixed Bag Of Fish


IMG_5253

Eataly can be a hard place for the hungry.

For starters, chaos rules the moment you set foot in the door of this cavernous Whole Foods-meets-tony-food-court Italian emporium in New York City that opened at the end of summer. Believe me, you’ll need all the strength you can muster to bulldoze your way past the bodies before you can get at any food.

And while you’re pressed up, body against body, there are the displays of cheeses, desserts, milk and coffee you’ll be breezing past. You’ll want to stop, of course — but the mosh pit all around owns you. All you can do is cast longing glances, hoping for some private time with that fetching taleggio later in the evening perhaps, as the crowd carries you helplessly along.

Our destination on this particularly mobbed Saturday evening is Il Pesce, the fish restaurant within this 50,000 square foot-place that partner Mario Batali has famously billed as a “temple,” where “food is more sacred than commerce.”

Amid the sections where you can buy pasta, bread, cookbooks or stand around tall tables in a “tasting piazza” and nibble on cured meats, there are a few eateries devoted to specific categories — vegetables, pasta, fish, meat. Our dining companion for the evening, the insatiable Gael Greene, has already eaten her way through a few of those places. “I was curious to try the fish restaurant …” she says.

So, Il Pesce it is …

[Read more…]