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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.
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
Living and studying in Florence, Italy was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. Everything about this charming city—the people, culture, art, architecture, shopping and of course the delicious food and wine—was in a completely different league than anything I had been previously exposed to.
My first apartment in Florence looked out upon Piazza Pitti, a beautiful open square surrounded by the famous Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Throughout the day, locals and tourists alike would sit outside and sunbathe, read, shop at the adjacent street merchants or enjoy a cup of creamy gelato, while relaxing in this inviting courtyard. I was so fortunate to take in such a lovely sight everyday when I walked out my door.
It’s rare to find authentic fare in the States that can compare to the delicacies I became accustomed to while overseas—the Italians are truly masters of creating fresh, flavorful cuisine with a bit of love infused into every bite. While growing up, my two Grandmothers and Mom set the bar extremely high for what I consider great Italian food, and living in Florence only elevated it further.
I still hold Firenze very near to my heart and it will always be one of my favorite cities in the world. Whenever I long for those sun-kissed Tuscan days and want to reminisce about Italia, or my beloved piazza, I head down to Bar Pitti in the West Village.
While there, I feel like I’m in Tuscany all over again. Black and white images of Florence grace the golden-painted walls of the eatery’s cozy interior, which is jam-packed with wooden tables, but the restaurant’s true standout is the exceptional outdoor dining space. A chalkboard of daily specials extends the already enticing Mediterranean menu offerings, while the patrons and staff speak their country’s native tongue far more than any English (I love going places where I get to practice my Italian). Plus, this establishment is dog-friendly, so I can bring Cooper along while I dine alfresco.
Pasta and wine go hand-in-hand, but pasta in wine? This I had to try.
Chef Michael Chiarello celebrates the flavors of the West Coast in his new cookbook, Bottega, named after his latest Napa Valley restaurant. In his Zinfandel Spaghetti recipe, strings of pasta are simmered in red wine before being paired with broccoli rabe. Chiarello’s wine-steeping technique is so simple, yet adds to the flavor complexity of the dish (a delicate balance of salty, sweet, bitter & hearty) and really lets the essence of Napa shine—plus the deep purplish-reddish hue that the drunken strands take on is so striking!
I won’t typically post another person’s recipe as-is, since I like to whip up my own, but after diving into this wine-laden pasta, I wanted to share the love. I added a dash more red pepper flakes than called for since I like some heat, but as it stands, this dish is perfectly balanced, refined and was a beauty on my table.
Tip: Be sure to pick up two bottles of vino—one for the pasta and the other for drinking with dinner. The spaghetti can’t have all the fun! Salute!
Zinfandel Spaghetti (makes 4 to 6 servings)
Recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (Chronicle Books)
I took a fresh pasta class at Rustico Cooking and learned to make an incredibly delicate potato gnocchi. Micol, the chef instructor, is originally from Milan, Italy and stands by her classic Italian gnocchi method of simply using potatoes and flour. The omission of eggs (which add density) in her recipe results in light and fluffy pasta puffs. If you have any interest in learning to cook authentic Italian cuisine, I highly recommend taking a class at Rustico—it was really enlightening and a total blast!
Gnocchi isn’t overly difficult to make and doesn’t require a pasta maker to form, but it is fairly time consuming. A true labor of love, but completely worth the effort. Micol’s technique was just too perfect to mess with, so below is the recipe that she shared. The red wine & beef ragu is inspired by the sauce we cooked in class, but I switched up the ingredients a bit and adjusted the flavors by adding a touch of cream, spices and some heat. The next time you want to create a warm, satisfying and special meal, give this gnocchi recipe a try. Buon appetito!
Fresh Potato Gnocchi with Red Wine & Beef Ragu Recipe (serves 4-6)