1. IL BAGATTO on 92 East 2nd Street, between Avenues A & B in the East Village. (Thanks to my friend Luigi for the great recommendation). What’s Special About It? Old world meets new world in this charming place that has small and medium-sized tables, making it perfect for a romantic evening out for two or for a group, which we were when I went there earlier this month.
We were lucky to get a table for eight at the edge of the open patio so while we were inside, we were facing the street so had the best of both worlds. The wait staff was incredibly knowledgeable about not just the food, but the wine as well. Since it didn’t make sense to go for American wines, and the Italian options were plentiful, we had plenty to choose from.
I first looked at the 2008 Sangiovese Mezzanotte, Mattia Barzagui although was in a mood for something a little heftier. Given that my colleagues were ordering a variety of dishes, including chicken and one solo vegetarian, we started with the 2006 Nero d’Avola “Don Antonio” before moving over to the deeper, drier 2006 Amarone Campo Leon, Latium, by far my favorite even though the Nero was very drinkable and went with most of the dishes we ordered.
What to try? An appetizer dish I didn’t try but was curious about was their Prince Edward Island mussels….frankly there were too many Italian-style dishes that drew me in before they did, but if fresh, they could be a great catch. We ordered a bunch of salads to share and a penne with spicy tomato sauce (penne all’arrabbiata – did you know that arrabbiata means angry?). Their signature Bolognese sauce is particularly yummy (made with Mioli’s recipe they say). They really talked up a dish we didn’t end up ordering: the Gnoccetti Verdi e Blu, which is homemade gnocchi (that alone should be worth it), served with spinach and gorgonzola sauce (under $17 but its meatless for those who care).
I ordered the veal scaloppine with prosciutto and sage sautéed in white wine and butter, then topped with shaved parmigiano (which I had on the side). Italian and French chefs hate that request btw.
Another interesting side dish to share is their warm mushrooms and potato salad sautéed with shallots, rosemary and sage. For dessert, try their three chocolate mousse cake, which combines white and dark chocolate mousse with a cocoa coating and white chocolate shavings. There’s also the chocolate truffle ice cream ball with zabaione gelato in the middle and covered with pralines if you want to order a few different things for the table.
2. IL POSTO ACCANTO is right next door to Il Bagatto in the East Village on East 2nd Street between A and B Avenues. What’s Special About It? Authentic authentic authentic with a great bar that is situated towards the door. In other words, on a nice summer night, they keep the doors open so the ambience is great. They have a great wine list and so many traditional Italian dishes to choose from, you’ll wonder why ever least East 2nd with two amazing places side-by-side.
What to try? For starters, try the Hand Crafted Ricotta Cavatelli, Spicy Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, Peas and White Truffle Oil. For only $13, you can order House Made Tortelloni Stuffed with Oxtail Seared and then Slow Braised in Barolo and Herbs until it falls off the Bone. Did I mention the Oxtail Sauce, Toasted Pine Nuts and Italian Parsley? Most of the pasta is homemade by the way and “house-made” which means on the presmies. You can get a yummy linguine with Italian Vongole Veraci Clams saute with garlic and olive oil for only $13 as well. Try another house made dish that will have you begging for the recipe: House Made Garganelli Pasta with Grey Mullet Bottarga, Cannellini Beans, Julienne Zucchini, served with Garlic and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Hello! Bring it on.
3. MARCELLERIA on 48 Gansevoort Street.
What’s Special About It? Marcelleria is a cross between old Italian and old American as evidenced by the rather modern looking white “bull” hanging from the wall. It is also set on a cobble stone street and has outdoor seating when the weather warrants an outside dining experience.
What to try? I’m a fan of oysters so can’t resist pointing you to the blue point, long island oysters however they’re $3.00 each and when a dozen is easy for you and you want to try many more things, it adds up.
Also picture this: Prosciutto di Parma with mozzarella di bufala together with a crostini peperoncini or you can opt for the Chicken Liver crostini if you want to try something different. Sure, they have great pastas but there are other places with better offerings here. Ambience, meat, baked eggplant and their oxtail ragu will take you further.
For starters try their spring green pea soup with zucchini, fresh mint and ricotta and then for something a little heftier, go for the tuscan sausage served with cannellini beans. Lastly, since its an unusual dish even though I didn’t try this, check out the straw & hay tagliolini served with peas & prosciutto.
4. MALAESTA TRATTORIA on 649 Washington Street between Christopher St & 10th Street in the West Village.
What’s Special About It? Malaestra is about as authentic as it gets for a place located in an area which has become more commercialized and draws tourists as well as locals alike. The food is genuine though and created “with love” despite the fact that their sizes are not monstrous. That said, the prices are incredible, particularly for New York….a $12 ravioli is pretty hard to beat. Casual elegance meets rustic and authentic all at good prices. (note: they only take cash)
What To Try? They have excellent Spinach Gnocci, fresh Bruschetta, and delicious Tagliata Al Casale (Steak) and the Costoletta Di Agnello (Lamb Chop). That said, I’d go for pasta here as it’s homemade and fresh….and you can tell.
5. MAX RESTAURANT has locations in both the East Village and Tribeca. (it was recommended to me by an Albanian friend of mine who lives in the city). Locations: 51 Avenue B between 3rd and Fourth and 181 Duane Street between Greenwich and Hudson.
What’s Special About It? Max is quaint, small, disorganized in that charming kind of way with authentic tables, outdoor seating (very basic, but great if you’re trying to get away from classic large restaurants with cold air conditioning systems).
What To Try? Remember that this place was referred to me by an Albanian friend who still gets to eat the best of his mother’s cooking, so the food had better be not just good but homemade. Try their Rigatoni Alla Siciliana as well as their Ragatoni with eggplant, tomato sauce and mozzarella. Sometimes basic is the way to go, especially when the ingredients are fresh.
Their Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina and the very traditional Rigatoni served with beef meatballs and sweet Italian sausage is a delight. Most of these dishes are in the $12.95 to $15.95 price range too, so all affordable. They have a porcini ravioli with truffle cream sauce as well if you wan to try something a little richer. If you want to try something other than pasta, go for their Salmone alla Griglia, which is served with a caper sauce, spinach & mashed potatoes. Comfort food? Try mom’s meat loaf with potato pancetta gratin or the breaded chicken cutlet topped with fresh tomatoes and arugola. For dessert, try their homemade tarimasu.