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With Gusto

 
 

La Cucina Italiana

   

 

‘Tis March, the month which comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb, but somehow we prefer the lovelier and more anatomically specific comes in with an adder's head, and goes out with a peacock's tail!  Unpredictable March: to the Italians, marzo is pazzo, the crazy month. This Winter we’ve written about Waterzooi, Brillat-Savarin, about the cold weather charms of Alsatian food, but now, we’ve been thinking about the Italy of the imagination, where the lion lies down with the lamb, where Winter has no hold on us...we’re moving South, bypassing France with its codified cuisine to the sensual, impetuous, personal cucina of Italy.

 

We find ourselves returning again and again to Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano, long a foodie destination with its classic menu, the emphasis on seasonal ingredients.  An unlikely, unexpected oasis on angled Greenwich Avenue which is a border of sorts, where the whimsical streets of old New York merge with the ordered grid of Manhattan.  The décor pays aesthetic homage to Italian films from the 50s and 60s with its retro dark minimalist palette: black and white, dark woods, chic chocolate leather banquettes, menu covers with a grainy black-and-white photograph of Anita Ekberg from La Dolce Vita, a long elegant bar, and an enormous glittering chandelier as centerpiece.

 

The gastronomical surprises start before one orders with a sampling of Radishes with Bagna Cauda—a “hot bath” of olive oil, anchovies, and garlic that with all its contrasting flavors brings out the subtle sweetness and crunch of the radishes.  It’s a signature dish, legacy of the original chef Jody Williams.  There are some excellent appetizers, including carciofi alla giudea, succulent baby artichokes fried to almost charred perfection—even the stems melt luxuriously, too quickly—and polipetti alla griglia, octopus made delicious with celery & black olive.  Executive chef Saul Montiel has recently taken the reins back from Ryan Lowder, and the fare remains classic with rustic seasonal touches.  The polpettine alla siciliana (Sicilian meatballs with pine nuts & raisins in a tomato sauce) is a delicious take on an old standby, could hardly be improved upon.  Pappardelle al ragu’ di bue fatti in casa an oxtail ragu with the fresh pappardelle cooked perfectly al dente, the ragu spiced just enough to provide a slight kick to the evening.  If you are in the mood for seafood, there’s a marvelous branzino con salsa di salmoriglio seasoned to perfection with lemon, thyme, pepper flakes and garlic.  Or in keeping with the time of the year, one could have a stinco di agnello, classic slow-braised lamb shank!

 

But there is also the pleasure of staying in and cooking Italian food--simple, sensual, open to adaptation and interpretation.  Where to begin: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking perhaps a good place to start; Mario Batali's Simple Italian food: Recipes From My Two Villages, (the two villages here are Borgo Capanne and Greenwich Village), and the book which he describes as “Italian in sensibility, but made of local ingredients -- some never used in classical Italian cooking” has brilliantly simple yet divine variations on bruschetta, figs cooked with gorgonzola.... Or take a culinary journey around Italy with Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italy.

 

 

Best places to buy Italian ingredients in New York? Salumeria Rosi where one can get authentic pane Toscana, as well as excellent guanciale, and if you want to buy grano de tenero to make your own pasta, or buy the best fresh pasta there is Buon Italia and DiPalo's.  Out with a peacock's tail!

 

Eat: Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano

 

Shop for Ingredients: Salumeria Rosi, Buon Italia, DiPalo's.

 

Cook: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

 

Cook: Mario Batali's Simple Italian food: Recipes From My Two Villages

 

Cook: Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italy

 

Recipe: Jody Williams recipe for Radishes with Bagna Cauda

 

Tags:  food  travel  italy 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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