Peasant: Italian for the Literati
Peasant has a deceiving name. The uber-stylish Nolita eatery evokes quite the opposite of what you would expect from a restaurant named Peasant; it is slinky, golden, warm, impeccably designed, and geared towards the laidback elegance typical of the neighborhood. Chef-owner Frank deCarlo offers rustic with fashionable touches such as the ubiquitous exposed brick wall, a gorgeous glowing open kitchen, fluttering candlelight, and a sexy lounge-like bar area.
The focus of the long rectangular space is the hearth, glowing, crackling, and burning at the far end of the room. So unusual in New York restaurants, it captivates first-time diners. The dining area itself is sparse with wooden tables and booths, industrial aluminum chairs that are surprisingly comfortable, and boughs of twigs. The bar at the front is dark and quiet, an embers-like foil to the bright bustle of the kitchen.
The food offers up many dichotomies, the most notable being that it’s elegant Italian comfort food menu. The array of traditional rustic Italian dishes that deCarlo transforms into layered and elegant entrees is truly tantalizing – good luck picking just one plate to try. Expect pastas, pizzas, a diverse set of antipasti, seafood and meat main courses and nightly specials.
The meal starts off with a bowl of sweet ricotta cheese, a dollop of olive oil, and a basket of chewy and delicious Italian bread. I was sold on Peasant with the ricotta – decadent, creamy, totally on the house, and perfect when slathered thickly on every corner of the bread crust. My friend Sarah and I spent a good long while perusing the menu, vacillating between the many tasty-sounding options.
Ultimately, I opted for the sea urchin tagliolini (yet another step in my growing adoration of everything uni). A silky skinny pasta, the tagliolini is doused in a savory white-wine parsley sauce and loaded with manageable chunks of creamy fresh sea urchin. It was unusual, addictive, hearty, and yet still refined. Sarah stayed classic with the Margherita pizza, a true homage to thin-crust wood-burned pies. The personal sized pie was more tomato than mozzarella and more olive oil than anything else, but the slightly chewy and crispy crust elevated this Margherita far over the average pizza.
Peasant is at its best a gorgeous date spot and also great for a congenial wine-fueled dinner with friends. Stylish locals flock for good wine, good food, and good conversation – the triumvirate of successful Italian. Peasant shimmers with warmth and delivers super tasty food without any over-the-top preparations or presentations; it strikes the balance between simple home cookin’ and a laidback sophisticated vibe so beloved by downtown New Yorkers. Just be careful not to fill up on the ricotta…