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the sweet scoop
For one of the most autentico Italian experiences around, get your appetite ready and head to Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. NoHo’s rustic market, salumeria, bakery, wine bar and restaurant is an extension of former chef Ignacio Mattos’s original Il Buco, located on adjacent Bond Street.
In the front Alimentari grocery section, you can purchase artisanal dry goods, cured meats, and freshly baked bread to enjoy at home. Or settle into the warm, cozy Vineria and restaurant to sample seasonal specialties featuring organic, local produce and proteins from eco-friendly farms—which chef Justin Smillie precisely crafts using traditional Italian methods. Varied individual and high communal tables invites sharing the love with friends—or making new ones. Belly up to a spot by the open kitchen for a front row view of the staff busily churning out delicacies.
While the atmosphere charms, the simple, straightforward cuisine is most likely to entice a repeat visit. Served with crusty, chewy Italian bread, the house-made ricotta is a must have starter. A pillow of soft curds garnished with sugar snap peas, toasted pine nuts, mint, granola and a swirl of honey offered an inviting sweet-savory sensation. Another knockout appetizer of Manila clams arrived resting in zesty roasted pepper and garlic broth, thick cubes of pancetta sprinkled throughout.
Vegetable contorni, charcuterie and fresh pastas, seafood and meats complete the menu. Try the delicate twirls of “busiate” pasta coated with almonds, anchovies, sun-ripened duana tomatoes and capers. For a heartier entrée, the signature spit-roasted short ribs presented large chunks of tender, peppery meat edged by darkened, chewy bark. They were both exceptional mains.
Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria is a solid choice for a romantic date night or breaking bread with a group. Make a reservation to guarantee a prompt seating—then prepare to mangia.
My review as published in the Clean Plates Manhattan 2013 Restaurant Guide Book (purchase it here) and on CleanPlates.com. Photo courtesy of LocalEats.com.
Since opening in late 2010, Flatiron’s massive Italian food emporium, Eataly, has become one of the city’s most tempting destinations. Still somehow, as if aisles upon aisles of specialty items, fresh produce and six full-service restaurants wasn’t alluring enough, Batali and the Bastianichs have upped the ante even further by debuting a 4,500-sq. foot brewery and restaurant on the roof.
Far from your typical brews and brats beer garden, Birreria is a rooftop oasis featuring artisanal house-crafted ales and a menu blending both the locally sourced and imported gourmet foods that Eataly is famous for. After an elevator ride to the 14th floor, large gleaming copper beer tanks give way to a 150-seat deck furnished with wooden tables, a lengthy bar and plenty of room to hang out. A retractable dome kept wet weather from raining on our parade as we dug into a filling red wine vinaigrette-dressed insalata composed of wax beans, roasted onion, potatoes, asparagus and capers.
Detailing farm and purveyor meat sources, the menu boasts flavorful grilled dishes like fat-marbled Donley Ranch skirt steak elevated by salsa verde, and a succulent salt-encrusted Pennsylvania chicken thigh with sweet corn, purslane stalks and olive-almond pesto sauce (the night’s clear standout). If you’re craving more traditional beer garden fare, don’t overlook the housemade sausages, especially a savory and sweet Emilia Romagna-inspired ground pork link spiced with warm clove and nutmeg. Vegetarians will delight in hearty mushroom entrées. We sampled whole roasted maitakes atop a bed of rich pecorino sardo crema, and sides like braised cabbage and pickled vegetables are excellent accompaniments.
To wash it all down, choose from three unfiltered, unpasteurized and naturally carbonated ales brewed on-site, nine Italian and American draft microbrews, more than 30 bottled beers and select wines on tap. Plan ahead to snag a coveted dinner reservation, then sit back, relax and say Ciao to a roof-raising good time.
Chef Dave Martin knows how to play ball. As demonstrated when the Top Chef alum debuted his meatball-centric menu to an eager crowd during this weekend’s preview of The Meatball Factory, which officially opens on Tuesday, October 25th.
Commanding the corner of East 14th Street and 2nd Avenue, this warm, rustic bistro boasts a cozy interior with dark wooden tables, exposed brick walls, floor to ceiling windows and a sizable bar area. The menu of upscale comfort food centers around an extensive selection of house-ground gourmet meatballs, including flavorful rounds of braised pork, short ribs, chorizo, duck, lamb, turkey and veggie. Proteins pair up with eight savory sauces, such as green curry peanut, black truffle cream, spiced up vodka and fire roasted marinara, and fully customizable combos allow diners to curb any meaty craving—you can have your balls on a challah roll, over housemade pasta or crispy, thin-crust pizza, or poutine-style atop fresh cut Idaho fries coated in melted cheese.
So, what makes The Meatball Factory stand out? “Simple, high quality, fun food that’s affordable,” Martin shared. Nothing on the menu is over $15 and no bottle of wine is priced over $40. Yet, the quality and flavors are top notch. Take the Turducken meatball, made from a house blend of La Frieda turkey, Bell & Evans chicken, Hudson Valley Farms duck confit, sage & allspice. Martin prides himself on prime sourcing and uses his own line of handcrafted rubs, sauces and seasonings to tastefully elevate each dish.
While meatballs are the star here, you’ll also find dairy-free and gluten-free options, seasonal salads, vegetable sides, and a tempting array of sweet treats and ice cream sundaes to round out the menu. The ‘Thai This’ pizza—a mouthwatering medley of ground Turducken, luscious green curry peanut sauce, Thai chiles and Grana Padano sprinkled over delicate cracker dough—is a must-try. For the ultimate indulgence, order up Dave’s World Famous Black Truffle Mac ‘n’ Cheese—a decadent breadcrumb-topped infusion of slow cooked cream, shallots, brandy, sherry, truffles, fontina, thyme and oregano. And make sure not to overlook the shaker of red chili spiced agave on your table. When splashed onto entrées, it adds complexity, depth and quickly becomes addicting. To wash it all down, belly up to the bar for reasonably priced vino, along with 18 taps and 20 bottles of craft beer.
With an evident passion for his craft, chef Martin masterfully pairs new flavors with comfort food staples, creating dishes that you’ll want to savor again and again. And since The Meatball Factory rolls out endless choices and combinations aplenty, be sure to come hungry and prepare to have a ball.
The Meatball Factory, 231 Second Avenue at 14th Street, 212.260.8015
Garlic crackling in olive oil, the smell of fresh picked basil, a pot of marinara simmering on the stove. If you crave the comforts of authentic Italian as often as I do, then feast your eyes on my feature for The Strong Buzz about Casa Nonna—a new Hell’s Kitchen trattoria that officially opened its doors today. Mangiamo!
There’s a new way to eat at Grandma’s house. Just head to Hell’s Kitchen, where recently opened Casa Nonna attempts to recreate the home cooked Italian experience. Following the success of their DC-based outpost of the same name (which pays homage to the Italian matriarch), ESquared Hospitality, the parent company of BLT Restaurant Group, introduces the Tuscan- and Roman-inspired trattoria to their rapidly growing portfolio.
Casa Nonna is far from a quaint cucina, but a sprawling 200-seat space boasting a generous bar area and two main dining rooms filled with brown leather banquettes, terra cotta floors, and walls adorned with vintage artwork and antique mirrors. At the center of it all is a sleek marble counter Pizza Bar, where you can enjoy a full view of the open kitchen and mosaic-tiled pizza oven.
Chef de Cuisine David Amorelli (formerly of davidburke & donatella) executes an accessible menu of seasonal specialties. Expect a selection of hot and cold antipasti, such as Sicilian sweet & sour eggplant ($6) and braised mini meatballs in marinara ($11), and daily house made pastas including orecchiette with broccoli raab and fennel sausage ($18) and gnocchi with lobster, chanterelles, pancetta and garlic greens ($28). Entrées of pan fried veal chop ($38) and whole grilled Mediterranean sea bass ($24) reflect traditional Italian favorites, yet Casa Nonna’s savory star seems to be the Neapolitan-style pizzas ($13-16) made from high quality ingredients and wood-fire cooked until piping hot, with a bubbly, charred crust.
For dolci, get sweet on Bomboloni sugar doughnuts soaked in Limoncello, white chocolate Affogato sprinkled with espresso, and an assortment of sorbetti (all $7). The wine list is exclusively Italian and includes 60 selections available by the quartino or bottle ($13-$135), while the cocktail menu offers classics with a twist, such as the CasaNova with Finlandia grapefruit vodka, Aperol, clover honey syrup and fresh orange and lemon juices ($13).
And if granny still hasn’t filled you up, sharing the space next door will be NYC’s second GO Burger location, serving burgers, hot dogs and shakes from a dedicated kiosk.
Casa Nonna is located at 310 W. 38th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Aves), 212-736-3000
Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow, co-owners of The Meatball Shop, sure know how to grind up some great meatballs. Their Lower East Side meat-centric hotspot dishes out a fresh twist on a tried-and-true classic dish—certainly not an easy feat—and has gained a cult following since opening in February 2010.
The longtime buddies started the ambitious joint venture based on the notion, “who doesn’t love a good meatball?” Within less than a year, their laid-back Stanton Street meatball mecca has garnered a loyal fan base, steady stream of first-foray success and quite the media buzz. Brooklynites can get on the ball soon too—an expansion to Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg was announced recently.
Last Friday, the dynamic duo hit up Late Night to teach Jimmy Fallon a thing or two about making their famous meatballs. Click here for the funny, innuendo-filled (boys will be boys) demo segment and recipes. While balling it up with Fallon, news dropped of plans for a third location in the West Village—a Greenwich Street shop is set to open this summer. There’s even a cookbook in the works.
One of New York’s most anticipated new restaurants, Ciano, has officially opened its doors.
There has been quite a buzz surrounding Chef Shea Gallante‘s next move ever since he left the esteemed Cru about a year ago. His recent rustic Italian venture features a still-under-wraps menu, which focuses on seasonal ingredients and farm to table preparations (think dishes like veal meatballs filled with creamy white polenta and sprinkled with rich black truffles). Residing in the former space occupied by Beppe at 45 E. 22nd Street, Ciano appears to be an intimate Tuscan gem with a dedicated wine room, fresh bread-baking hearth and the warmth of a wood burning fireplace.
Given Chef Shea’s regarded reputation and already acclaimed reviews in the New York Times and Vogue, I certainly plan on saying ciao to Ciano soon. If anyone goes in the meantime, let me know how it is!