Iacopo Falai - former executive pastry chef at Le Cirque, also behind the lower east side's Falai Panetteria - proves once again with this intimate Italian cafe that he really can do it all. The teensy space feels four times its size thanks to the all-white walls and tables, translucent chairs, sparkling chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows. If you get lucky, you can sit just a few steps away from the open kitchen, where you can watch the chefs prepare the wonderful homemade pastas, entrees and desserts with astonishingly little room to maneuver.
For appetizers, I tried the polipo - tender octopus sprinkled with fried capers, paprika, fingerlings and black squid ink - and the minestrone - light and fresh, if the tiniest bit under-seasoned. For mains, I ordered the branzino, which came with a saute of napa cabbage and porcini mushrooms, drizzled with a red wine reduction. The dish was just the right size, and everything was delicious. I also tried the pollo alla veneziana - a sauteed chicken breast with mushrooms and onions that tasted like a lighter, more sophisticated version of your typical chicken marsala. But the star of the night was the gnudi, a type of gnocchi made with ricotta and a little bit of flour that tastes just like the filling of a ravioli, without the pasta - the word means 'nude' in Italian. The spinach-ricotta dumplings were tossed in a brown butter-sage sauce and sprinkled with parmigiano (if you're like me, that description alone has your mouth watering). They're unbelievably light and creamy, and literally melt in your mouth. By the time the waiter brought over the dessert menu I was stuffed and ready for bed but, if you can manage it, go for the crepe cake. It's out of this world...or so I've been told.
The food isn't cheap but it isn't unreasonable and, though this place has a reputation for unfriendly service, I found our waiter warm and helpful. I would, however, definitely recommend coming here on a weeknight. The small space can get crowded and noisy very quickly.
265 Lafayette Street
pollo alla veneziana
branzino con porcini