A Roman Holiday—in NYC

Julie Besonen

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If you can't fit in a dreamy trip to Rome this summer, we have some transporting new Italian restaurant suggestions that can still take you far away. At the five exciting places detailed in our slide show, seafood, pasta, pizza and grilled meats stay true to the spirit of la cucina Italiana but venture off the beaten path with global ingredients and compelling preparations fashioned with farmers' market vegetables. Read on for more.

Duck ragu. Photo: Nathan Rawlinson

All'onda
22 E. 13th St., 212-231-2236, Greenwich Village, Manhattan
Venice is the jumping off point for the menu at All'onda, but it's really more about executive chef Chris Jaeckle's gut instincts for combining global-trade-route ingredients. Case in point: crostini spread with ricotta and draped with a caramelized layer of butternut squash, hints of ginger and saba (concentrated grape-must syrup) making it pop. It's a primi that could almost be a dolci, with an underlying sweetness and the glossy splendor of a tarte Tatin. The Adriatic premise behind this modern, bi-level spot means seafood is a focus. Japanese ingredients enter the picture in brilliantly subtle ways, such as bucatini with smoked uni and spicy bread crumbs and polenta with miso-cured egg yolk and wild mushrooms. Jaeckle has both Italian and Japanese restaurants on his CV (Ai Fiori, Morimoto), and Chris Cannon, who assembled the Northern Italian wine list, used to head up Marea and Osteria Morini. Jeffrey Chodorow, the financial backer of dozens of restaurants across the country, including China Grill, can consider this Greenwich Village jewel one of his crowning glories.

Photo: Sebastian Gollings

Antonioni's
177 Chrystie St., 646-998-3407, Lower East Side, Manhattan
Antonioni's is a word-of-mouth plum with just the right blend of old-school magic and new-fashioned coolness. Booths are leather, barkeeps are in white jackets and the circus-animal wallpaper recalls the Scalamandre zebras at the sadly missed Gino's. Owner Luc Levy, also behind Cafe Gitane, has a knack for drawing in a stylish Euro crowd that remains faithful rather than moving on to the next hot spot. Such devotion is largely attributed to offering well-prepared, mouthwatering food at prices that are on par with expectations. Fried artichokes with lemon mayonnaise are better than any you might sample in Rome's Portico d'Ottavia. A correct Negroni, pasta puttanesca, meaty lasagna and thin-crust pizza are all kiss-the-fingertips enjoyable.

Fresh spaghetti with lobster, spring onions, peas and sorrel. Photo: Alice Gao. Courtesy, LDV Hospitality

Barchetta
461 W. 23rd St., 212-255-7400, Chelsea, Manhattan
Esca chef Dave Pasternack has branched out to source and oversee the seafood at Barchetta, a contemporary, wood-detailed Italian trattoria that epitomizes Chelsea casual. Even dressed down, the local clientele is noticeably artsy. A stimulating way to begin is with a selection of crudo—golden spotted bass with Antarctic sea salt, sea trout with crushed pistachios or kingfish with pickled shishito peppers. For those who prefer their seafood cooked there's grilled soft-shell crab with asparagus, sea scallops with fire-roasted chickpeas and Scottish salmon with dandelion-walnut pesto. Owner John Meadow (Scarpetta, American Cut) was an Esca regular, which helped get Pasternack on board as a partner. Owing to its environs, the restaurant showcases a rotating collection of pieces by up-and-coming artists from Chelsea galleries, cementing it as part of the community.

Housemade ricotta and bread. Photo: Jill Futter

Emily
191 Fulton St., 347-844-9588, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn
Emily and Matt Hyland's relationship was fired by a passion for pizza, so it's only natural they put their hearts, souls and savings into a pizza parlor. Matt has worked at Public and the Breslin and diligently studied the intricacies of dough and cheese making before embarking on this partly Kickstarter-funded venture in Clinton Hill. The custom-built wood-burning oven turns out spectacular thin-crust pies charred with blackened splotches, the toppings vibrant and balanced. There are red versions and white versions, meaty combos (pepperoni, sausage, Surryano ham) and farmers' market delights (mushrooms, kale). Pastas are robust (trumpets with duck ragu), and vegetable plates include such delicacies as raw, shredded sugar snap peas threaded with Parmesan, bottarga and fresh herbs. The long, narrow space is artistically appointed with metalwork and Joseph Cornell–style wood boxes of kitchenware objects. It all feels considered, right down to the drink options, with wine on tap served by the quartino in measured beakers, craft beer, hard cider and simple yet inventive cocktails.

Agnello. Photo: Anthony Jackson

Ristorante Morini
1167 Madison Ave., 212-249-0444, Upper East Side, Manhattan
A man with a pocket square in his Brooks Brothers jacket discreetly places a folded $100 bill on the bar to cover drinks for him and his elegant date before they move on to a luxurious Italian dinner upstairs. Ristorante Morini is conveniently near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and its patrons, like this gentleman, are the type who attend galas rather than stand in line for pay-what-you-wish admission tickets. The Altamarea Group (Ahmass Fakahany and chef Michael White) is behind this upscale, uptown version of Osteria Morini. The restaurant has 35 seats downstairs, 130 seats upstairs, two private rooms and sidewalk seating. Gordon Finn is the executive chef and Michael White's interpreter, making deluxe pasta dishes like tortelloni with asparagus, robiola and mascarpone cheese and raviolo with an egg yolk center, wild nettles, morels and brown butter. Coastal crudo and inland chicken, chops and steak are artistically presented, and the wine list is reliably deep.


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