Monday, August 3, 2009

Angel(hair) In Disguise

[I should preface this entry by apologizing: I wrote this before I started my blog, so I, very unfortunately, don't have drool-inducing photos to accompany the drool-inducing descriptions of the following drool-inducers. I was so drunk in love with my meals that I sprinted home, arms flailing in excitement, and wrote this for myself!]

If I had to choose one word to describe what I pasta-ulate to be the two best pasta dishes in the city, it would be this: simplicity. Simplicity I enjoy every time I engulf my mouth around a forkful of pasta so divine, your nonna would use it for her new Sunday sauce.

In a city whose restaurant survival rate of roughly 30% is a daunting indicator of our finicky tastes, New York is constantly trying to fill a niche or revolutionize the way we eat. Restaurants are popping up in swaths in order to, say, get all 8 million of us to gather round the now-ubiquitous banh-mi, or to show off the latest in vaporization, gelatinization, and all things gadgetry (in the case of the wd-50’s of the city). But sometimes we don’t want a gastro-masterpiece. Sometimes we just want a simple bowl of pasta. Two bowls to be exact. Both on opposing sides of the culinary track.

Descending the stairs to enter Piadina’s (57 W. 10th St) humble dining room, you can’t help but think, hey, this is what dining in Italy would be like. Well, it is. The rustic, wooden décor—free of white-napkin haughtiness—fit right in with the muted lighting (supplied by a string of lights, each covered in a brown paper bag) and cavernous, exposed brick frame of the interior. Always buzzing, but never crazed, the restaurant’s wait staff consists of a bunch of laidback, attractive young men who seem just as good of friends with each other as you are with the people you come here with. But forget about these Italian stallions; the eggplant and ricotta combo in the rigatoni alle melanzane e ricotta salata is the catch of the day. This well-portioned dish comes with perfectly al dente rigatoni and a heaping sauce of eggplant, ricotta, tomatoes, and fresh basil. The marriage of sauce and pasta is just right, (We hear you, Armani), and the taste is so grand, you’ll find yourself ooh-ing and ahh-ing with every lick of the lip.

Trade in your cash-only Italian joint for the child star of celebrity parents, Alto and L’Impero. This simple dish comes from a surprising source that prides itself on the complimentary citrus olive oil, eggplant caponata, and mascarpone butter it serves as the dipping companions to its homemade bread. Scarpetta (255 West 14th St.), the newest MePa restaurant venture from pasta virtuoso Scott Conant, houses a 70-seat back dining room that can only be described as rustic chic: with large mirrors supported by thick leather belts, wood paneling, beige décor, and a retractable-roof, it feels more like a country-version of a pied-à-terre for the uptown set.

While Scarpetta’s specialty is the duck foie gras ravioli, a scan of internet reviews, word of mouth, and a recommendation by the waiter will all tell you that the spaghetti con pomodoro e basilica is the big cheese of dishes. But don’t let its simplistic description deter you; the combination is so comforting, it’ll make you want to buy a sleeping bag and move right in. The spaghetti is cooked to al dente perfection and the hint of spice achieves complete balance with the sauce (come on, Armani, give it another twist of the fork) whose earthy basil is so fresh, you’d swear Conant just ran down 14th Street from the Union Square Farmer’s Market. And the simmered roma tomatoes somehow give the formaggio-free sauce an almost creaminess to it. Sort of like Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain: we don’t know what’s going on there, but it’s really, really good.

So to all you New Yorkers looking for where bliss in a bowl awaits: meet Piadina and Scarpetta, sure to be the realization of your culinary fate.

Piadina; 57 W. 10th St., New York, NY 10011; 212.460.8017

Scarpetta; 255 West 14th St., New York, NY 10014; 212.691.0555

Be happy and Carpe Diem!

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