I’m not sure how it happened or what prompted it, but I don’t think I’ve eaten Italian food as much as I did on this trip to New York. Not including the couple of trips to Italy many years ago, of course. New York is loaded with amazing restaurants and many of them happen to be Italian. Mom & Pop trattorias that are great for a no-fuss stodgy feed and of course a good dose of the “more refined” variety. Here are just a few of the ones we dropped into.
Aside from a few pizza joints, I think this has to be the only Italian restaurant we ate at in Brooklyn. Stone Park Cafe can be found on the quieter section of Park Slopes Fifth Avenue, a street that reminds me of Sydney’s Glebe Point Road. It’s far from being a cafe, as well. I’m not sure what it’s like during the day, but after dark it feels grown up, a bit relaxed and really homely. The lady behind the bar sure makes you feel at home, as well.
Perched up at a bar table lit by a solitary candle and the street light outside, it all kicks off with some vino, a metal bucket of crouton-like baguette pieces and Gulf shrimp scampi (14). I’m still unsure if the bread was meant to be teeth-breaking and crouton-like all the way through or if it was left to sit somewhere after the days lunch sitting.
As for the shrimp, it was spot on. A garlic crostini sat in the centre of the bowl, almost the same texture as the crunchy baguette pieces, but at least it had some lemon and white wine sauce to soften it. The “shrimp scampi” reference was a little puzzling as all I had was a few shrimp. Still, it was delish, even if shrimp and scampi are two different creatures.
It seemed that pasta was the go on that particular evening. A beautiful cavatelli (15) with plum tomato, Italian fennel sausage, roasted garlic and a healthy grating of parmesan. Gorgeous.
Loved the linguini & clams (16). Crowned with a seared Maine scallop, some Manila clams and Andouille sausage broth.
Rather than dessert, it was a few cheeses that finished off the meal. A cheese assortment (15) from local supplier Stinky Bklyn. Mycella from Denmark, a French Douceur du Jurs and a Dutch Roomano Pradera. A perfect trio.
Stone Park Cafe – 324 5th Avenue, Park Slope
Here’s a place that was one of the food-related highlights of our time in New York. I won’t say that is was mind blowing; just seriously good, honest and well made food that left us feeling beyond satisfied. Dell’anima is a pretty small Italian restaurant with some very coveted seating. I reckon you’d be lucky to nab a table as a walk-in on any day of the week.
The best seats in the house, I think, are those several stools that line the counter. Not all that great for a romantic evening, but who needs romance when you can sit and watch the cooking action just one metre away?
A simple yet tasty plate of plums (13) with yoghurt, walnuts & champagne vinaigrette seems to go down well with the other half. I go for the sweetbreads (17) which are insanely delicious, teamed with charred radicchio, a lip-pursing lemon & lime reduction and orange vanilla bean salad. A roller coaster of flavours from bitter, to sour to salty and sweet. Winner.
Pasta was the medium of choice for our mains. A damn good choice as well because these guys know how to cook it right. Tajarin alla carbonara (18) is perfectly al dente – some speck, scallions, pecorino, loads of black pepper and an in-tact egg yolk ready for the mixing.
We were recommended to try the bolognese (18), something I was a little wary of as it’s often as stodgy as hell or really ordinary. I guess when it comes to tagliatelle mixed with bolognese it’s stodgy by default. But that sauce with shavings of Parmigiano and real al dente pasta was miles from being ordinary.
Desserts were a must at a place like this. A simple chocolate panna cotta (10), crumbs of dark chocolate cake, whipped cream and cocoa nib nougatine.
Then there’s the nectarine upside-down corn cake (10), candied pecans, crème fraîche gelato and brown butter sauce. Warm like a steamed pudding and oh-so syrupy.
dell’anima – 38 8th Avenue, West Village
By the same guys as Dell’Anima is L’Artusi, another very popular West Village Italian eatery I’m glad we stopped by. Once again we sat up at the bar overlooking part of the long kitchen, sipping on vino and an amuse of corn velouté.
And once again there was a tempting starter of sweetbreads (16), this time served up crispy with blackberries, lemon and corn. The plate was left clean, believe me, and my tastebuds danced with glee.
Somehow the other half ended up getting the carbonara (17) which was a perfect clone of the dell’anima specimen. I went with the fettuccine rabbit cacciatore (20), devouring every strand without disappointment.
The kitchen was feeling a tad generous as we, and other diners, got to sample a complimentary sweet pepper ravioli along with our ordered dishes. Pretty good when you consider a bowl of pasta set’s you back around $18.
For dessert there’s an olive oil cake (10); a pretty standard affair served with raisin marmellata, vin santo and a crème fraîche mousse. The hands-down winner was the peach crostata (10). Served fresh from the oven with pecan-oatmeal streusel, peach caramel and mascarpone gelato. If it was twice the size it would have been devoured and the plate licked clean.
L’Artusi – 228 W 10th Street, West Village
Far from being a mom & pop restaurant is Scarpetta, one of five restaurants by the same name that can also be found in Miami, Toronto, Vegas and LA. Chef and restaurateur Scott Conant may not be seen tossing the pans in the kitchen but he does bring his refined touch to the menu.
An heirloom tomato salad (18) kicked off a relatively light meal, preceded by some vino, of course. Sweet chunks of tomato, taggiasca olives, micro herbs and a smear of eggplant purée. Pity the burrata that came with it consisted of just two tiny chunks. Love the stuff.
Taking up a small part of a rather large plate was the fennel dusted black cod (34). A medley of green beans, mushrooms and tomatoes added colour and a smoother than normal baccalà mantecato (salt cod in milk sauce) sauced things up a bit. Delicious, even if it was on the small side.
I couldn’t complain with my duck foie gras ravioli (26). In fact, I probably moaned with each triangular-shaped pillow. Creamy, fatty (in a good way), supremely tasty; encased in perfectly cooked pasta, drizzled with a sweet marsala reduction.
The coconut panna cotta (12) steps away from the traditional and is served beneath a pool of guava “soup’, sided by a brunoise of caramelised pineapple. A quenelle of sorbet and tuile add two more tasty dimensions.
Baked peaches & blackberry (12) sounded good on paper, but when it was presented in a glass tumbler I couldn’t help but feel a tad disappointed. Not a fan of desserts in cups. I would have preferred to see it arranged on a plate; with each component staring up at me. Call me fussy. The bottom layer is a sweet corn catalana, topped with baked peaches & a little blackberry, quite a bit of fior di latté and a scattering of homemade granola. Taking the presentation out of the equation, I wasn’t all that sweetened by this dessert. More like a deflation.
Scarpetta – 355 W 14th Street, Chelsea