Every New Yorker has a favorite, or a few favorite Italian restaurants and every visitor to New York strives to have that amazing Italian dinner out before heading back home. I fit into the first category and finding Italian gems that I love has been a part of my entire living experience here. You hope when you walk through a new restaurant door, or know when you walk through a familiar one, that you will be transported to Grandma’s kitchen, or back to the night spent at that trattoria in Florence. That’s what dining out is all about. Finding that NYC restaurant with the perfect vodka sauce or homemade cavatelli that you find yourself craving is like winning the restaurant lottery.
Rebecca Fishbein, writer for the New York-based food, news, and events website The Gothamist, takes the searching and guessing out of the process with her great list of a dozen of the city’s most spectacular pasta dishes. Published this past week, Fishbein’s article briefly describes each restaurant’s vibe and location and offers wonderful photos and descriptions of each spot’s best of the best. But we’ll get more into that a little later…
I’ve worked at three restaurants in Manhattan in the last 18 months. The second of the two was Vai (“go” in Italian), home to Chef Vincent Chirico‘s absurdly delicious Mediterranean cuisine. Chef Chirico is nothing short of a culinary genius, creating dishes that have diners moaning in their seats. Chirico opened Vai, now in it’s second Upper West Side location, five years ago after working at some of the most renowned restaurants in the world, including Jean Georges, Daniel, and Aquavit. Vai’s menu is inspired by Chirico’s extensive culinary experience, his travels throughout Europe and Asia, and his Italian and New York backgrounds.
First timers at Vai became regulars, and regulars became family in the cozy 60-70 seat spot, filled with dark wood and candlelight. The first time I visited the place and met with Chirico, I told him the place looked like him, as he is a tall, dark, handsome man. Beyond that, he is a mastermind in the kitchen with melt-in-your-mouth food that is plated beautifully and that I truly miss constantly. I used to stand in the kitchen and watch Chirico plate and be mesmerized by the art he was creating, particularly when it was a larger party and he was designing 10, 14, 16 matching dishes, each perfectly plated and delicately presented. How much did I love the restaurant’s food and ambience? Even as a full-time employee, I chose to dine at Vai with my mother on my birthday, bringing me back to my place of work on a special day off.
I bring up Vai because one of its most spectacular dishes, Chef Chirico’s Burrata Ravioli, made Fishbein’s list of the best dozen pasta dishes in the city. I was not in the least bit surprised. This dish brings people to their knees. The homemade pasta pillows are filled with the creamiest, softest burrata mozzarella cheese you can imagine and covered with truffle cream, grated 18 mo. Parmiggiano, and honshimeji mushrooms. Perfectly portioned (plenty but still elegant), this $19 dish is a must have and one that will come to you in your dreams or haunt you when you’re hungry at 1 pm or 3 am. In addition to EVERY OTHER ITEM on the menu, and the warm, cozy but lively atmosphere, Chef’s Chirico’s burrata ravioli will have you returning to Vai again and again. You don’t live on the Upper West Side? You will find yourself making the trip there for Vai, as it is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner, special occasion meal, catch up with friends, or whatever your personal dining-out reason may be. On the weekends, it gets packed so expect high noise levels during prime dinner hours (my Grandma and Grandpa had a hard time hearing a thing when I took them there, but they were too busy marveling over the food to care much).
Other must try Vai dishes? The Roasted Brussel Sprouts, large and roasted perfectly, on a bed of hazelnut-yukon potato mousse and layered with sliced capicolla and piave cheese ($16). Oh yeah, Chef puts cheese and cured meat on as many things as he possible can. The Baby Tuscan Kale salad is incredible, served with a sunny side up egg, diced pancetta, and aged pecorino ($12). The Hamachi and Yellowfin Tuna Crudo Duo with avocado and preserved ginger sauce ($16), Pan Roasted Sea Scallops served on parsnip mousseline with sicilian capers ($27) and the Beef Duo, consisting of a braised short rib and filet mignon served with confit garlic butter ($29) were other personal favorites of mine.
Even the bread and accompanying accoutrements are special (roasted garlic, eggplant puree, and cranberry bean salad). Vai’s price point is extremely reasonable considering the food and atmosphere are of the highest quality.
Let’s take a look at some of the other mouth watering dishes that made The Gothamist‘s list of the best of the best. I included here the ones that enticed me the most!
SPAGHETTI AND BASIL at SCARPETTA
Fishbein writes, “Chef Scott Conant’s $24 dish is comprised of mere house-made spaghetti, tomato sauce (made with REAL tomatoes, not that silly canned stuff) and a sprinkle of basil, but the dish is so fresh and packed with flavor you’ll trick your tastebuds into believing they’re touching something far more complicated.”
355 West 14th Street between 8th and 9th Aves in the Meatpacking District (212-691-0555, scarpettanyc.com).
MAFALDE E CECI at TRATTORIA ZERO OTTO NOVE:
“The $19 mafalde e ceci is a delicate dish made with fresh ribbon noodles, chickpeas and pancetta, sprinkled lovingly with toasted breadcrumbs and a dash of pecorino cheese.” -Fishbein
Bronx: 2357 Arthur Ave in the (718-220-1027, roberto089.com); Manhattan: 15 West 21st Street between 5th and 6th Ave in Flatiron (212-242-0899)
GARGANELLI at OSTERIA MORINI
“Chef Michael White’s famed SoHo spot serves a lot of tasty dishes, but most agree that the garganelli stands above them all. $22 gets you a steaming plate of rolled pasta quills gently doused with truffle butter and cream, made extra savory with bits of prosciutto and radicchio.” -Fishbein
218 Lafayette Street between Kenmare Street and Cleveland Place in SoHo (212-965-8777, osteriamorini.com).
For the full list, check out out The Gothamist article here.
Here are a few of my own NYC picks…
COQUILLE at LAFAYETTE
Lafayette is the new restaurant I work at. It’s Chef Andrew Carmellini‘s and the team at NoHo Restaurant Group’s (Locanda Verde, The Dutch) newest spot and it’s amazing. I’m not going to get into here how much I love my job because I’ll be here all day but I’ll skip to saying that the French-inspired food is outstanding and that this dish is one of my top, top favorites. I recommend it to every guest that asks me for assistance. The coquilles- hollowed, elbow shaped noodles- are served with a ragout made with braised beef cheek, fennel, red wine, garlic, and onion, and sprinkled with brebis (sheep’s milk cheese). This dish is phenomenal.
380 Lafayette Street in NoHo between at Great Jones Street (212-533-3000, lafayetteny.com).
GNOCCHI IN GORGONZOLA SAUCE WITH WALNUTS at IN VINO
This restaurant is one of my favorite lower Manhattan date spots and this is my favorite dish there. I wrote about In Vino back in August of 2012 and wrote, “I have had ‘gnocchi’ before but I don’t think I actually ever really had real gnocchi before now because I’ve never been blown away like this. These were little pillows of potato that melted in your mouth, covered in a creamy delicious cheese sauce, with the taste of gorgonzola but not overpowering. And the walnuts added a nice crunch. Compare it to a delicious bowl of elevated mac and cheese. This is a must try if/when you come here. We pretty much licked the bowl.” Sold.
215 E. 4th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B in East Village (212-539-1011, invino-ny.com).
PAPPARDELLE ALLA BOLOGNESE at SFOGLIA
Pappardelle is an exceptional pasta, definitely one of my favorites, due to its ability to lap up sauce so well amidst it’s long, thick ribbons. Bolognese is one of those dishes that is also simple but oh so fabulous and this was by far one of the most amazing versions I’ve ever tried, if not the very best. Just look at this picture. Sfoglia is a stand out restaurant on the Upper East Side and is another one of those perfect-for-every-occasion-places. I went with my mother and had a fantastic, quiet meal that we won’t soon forget.
1402 Lexington Avenue in UES at E. 92nd Street (212-831-1402, sfogliarestaurant.com).
Guess what type of food I’m having this Friday for Valentine’s? Writing this was a great way to get amped up!