New York City has always been a mecca for great Italian fare. Hobnob paid a visit to three very different hot spots that had one thing in common: terrific food and ambiance. Review the differences in our assessments. [sadly, all three of these spots are now closed]
WHO TO TAKE: SOMEONE FOR A VERY SPECIAL CELEBRATION OR YOUR BEST FOODIE BUDDY TO EAT AT THE BAR
From Chef Scott Conant comes very upscale and artistic dishes with unusual flavor components. Inspired by the cooking of his Italian grandmother, Conant really puts the love into the offerings here. You can experience this place in two ways: for a formal dinner make a reservation for a table in the back; and for something more casual, but just as special, hit the first-come, first-serve bar area, which features a row of seats along the window for eyeing passersby while munching, a high top communal table, and the bar.
Seen in the photos: That gorgeous, colorful specimen is the Heirloom Tomato salad, which was an absolutely delightful, fresh mix. The pasta was the Duck Agnolotti with haricot vert and a foamy foie gras sauce. It’s one of those dishes you order and still think about days later.
Our formal dinner started with a lovely one-bite selection of canapés: beet crisp, black rice arancini, smoked eggplant tartlet, carrot tartare, chicken liver mousse. Nice way to whet the appetite. Then we split the next three courses. Starting with rabbit (which is a go-to for me): Tyrolean Spätzle with rabbit, porcini & mint. Next, but not in the photos, was a sumptuous Potato Gnocchi, with vongole, sausage & lobster bottarga. Perfect as the weather starts to cool. We finished the meal with a very special Black Truffle Crusted Sea Bass with salsify, calamari & black trumpet mushrooms. This was all washed down with a silky Il Conventino, Montepulciano, Toscana.
The space is wonderfully serene with its high ceilings, white walls, perfectly placed mirrors, and touches of shimmer. So happy this place is in the ‘hood.
FUSCO 43 E 20th St (betw Park/Broadway)
WHO TO TAKE: YOUR SOUTHERN ITALIAN FRIENDS WHO APPRECIATE THE CLASSICS OR PEOPLE LOOKING FOR A SERENE, QUIET DINNER
This is the real deal, old-school Italian fare that New Yorkers are used to. Sal Anthony brightened up the corner of Third Avenue and 19th Street with a pristine design, extended hours, and nicely-priced Italian staples. Everything here feels fresh and clean.
My favorite dish: Broccoli Di Rabe Affogatto, which features the bitter broccoli rabe sautéed in a light, garlicky broth, and served with sliced Italian sausage. It’s cooked to just tender, and a joy to eat especially if you love the bitter greens. Seen in the photos: a fresh looking take on proscuitto and melon; pasta e fagioli soup; broccoli rabe and sausage; Salmon Grosseto; a cannoli and a kiss for dessert.
SAL ANTHONY’S 226 Third Ave (NW corner of 19th St)
Dante at Genuine
WHO TO TAKE: YOUR FRIEND WHO’S LOOKING FOR A QUICK ITALIAN BITE AND NEGRONI OR A GROUP TO SAMPLE SMALL BITES AND COCKTAILS
I knew this place had quality when I noticed two guys at the table next to us gabbing a mile a minute in Italian while partaking of the bar snacks and vino. In this scenario, the design team of AvroKo has refitted a classic destination in Little Italy and teamed up with the guys who run Dante.
They offer traditional dishes, but the main other reason to go is for the superb cocktails. They even offer a couple on tap, like the Aperol Spritz, or a Classic Negroni which you can serve yourself during Happy Hour from 4 to 7 pm at the Negroni fountain. Light bites pair while you sip: grilled prawns and octopus, oysters, salads, salumi, cheese, flatbread pizzas, and pasta.
Seen in the photos: the cocktail, La Dolce Dante—a super fresh mix (of which I had 3, they were so FINE) Byrrh Quinquina, Lillet Rouge, Old Tom Gin, Cardamaro, dry lambrusco, lemon, red fruits (and in this case a kiwi, green grape, and star fruit); the Caesar salad; cold asparagus; and the pasta, orecchiette with pesto, leeks, ricotta salata, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and pine nuts.
DANTE AT GENUINE 191 Grand St (SE corner of Mulberry St)