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Posts from the ‘hipster heaven’ Category

The Fat Radish: A No Man’s Land Secret Garden

Despite it’s goofy name, The Fat Radish is magical. Tucked into a discrete space in the no man’s land between the Lower East Side and Chinatown, walking into The Fat Radish is like discovering a secret garden. Inspired by the original industrial Covent Garden market in London, the Fat Radish bills itself as a healthy and simple sort of place – with a veggie friendly menu, biodynamic and natural wines, and an emphasis on seasonal cooking. And yet, it is so much more than the “simple, airy and elegant room” it considers itself.

Before sitting down to dinner, first enjoy a cocktail at the tiny bar behind the hostess stand. Nina Simone and Nat King Cole croon softly in the background while a swarthy English bartender, clad in plaid, pleasantly whips up one of the fresh house cocktails; industrial Edison lights shed a golden glow on the stacks of artisan and mainstream liquors, causing the glass bottles to twinkle softly. Suddenly, waiting for your guest to arrive is a marvelous experience. When heading back into the main dining room, take in the illuminated sprays of fresh flowers nestled into archways carved into the distressed white brick, the large antique mirror in the back listing the day’s specials, the rough hewn wooden furniture, decorated simply with dishcloth napkins and a tealight candle. Unique design touches make the room pop – such as a retro scarlet “R” letter sign, illuminated like a Broadway marquee with small white light bulbs or the cool blue modern ceramic squares, arranged neatly into a rectangle on one wall.¬† The Fat Radish is a charming gastronomic sanctuary in a part of town better known for graffitied storefronts, massage parlors, and fresh produce stands; it is warm and welcoming and yet somehow effortlessly cool, frequented by an unpretentious yet fashionable crowd.

The food is seasonal American, focused on fresh flavors and simple preparations. At dinner, something as simple as a warm potato salad, an arrangement of roasted fingerling potatoes topped with a poached egg, is truly tasty when the rich yellow yolk covers the herbs and shards of potato; the celery root pot pie is vegetarian, yet rich and homey, reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing and the chicken pot pie we all know and love. Salads are well-dressed and just taste good, garnished with baby beets, crispy bacon, or a well-cooked egg. Entree dishes are traditional – Colorado lamb loin with miatake mushrooms, glistening with fat, green curried monkfish with wild rice, a heritage pork chop with tomato jam, and, of course, a thick bacon cheeseburger with perhaps the best side ever, duck fat fries. While dinner is wonderful, brunch is perhaps even better – warm banana bread, soaked with melted butter, is irresistible; rich thick slices of avocado 7-grain toast, with eggs in a spicy tomato broth, is unusual, innovative and ridiculously delicious; ‘eggs purgatory,’ swimming in a flavorful tomato sauce dusted with pecorino, is the ideal savory brunch dish; and the homemade cheddar biscuit, served with gravy and bacon, is just … sinful.

The Fat Radish is a marvelous find for people who just love food. The atmosphere is pleasingly low-key, just trendy enough to feel hip yet also approachable, warm, and immensely likeable. The service is friendly and unobtrusive, present and efficient yet not nagging. The food, by and large, really tastes delicious – it’s not fussy or over-thought; instead, it has the taste of being cooked from the soul, cooked with love. When the atmosphere, the service, and the food all work together so seamlessly, with such a unified front, it’s truly difficult not to love The Fat Radish.

Perfect For: trendy vegetarians, Lower East Side locals, fashionistas, laidback dates, boozy brunch, schmoozing with a friendly bartender, a cozy night out with good friends

The Fat Radish on Urbanspoon

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Rubirosa: A Classic Pizzeria with Nolita Flair

Considering how difficult it is to get a reservation at Rubirosa and how much buzz the restaurant has had since opening, I had expected the Nolita pizzeria to be unattainably fashionable and perhaps even a little snotty. Thus, what a surprise it was to discover instead a warm, convivial and family-friendly neighborhood establishment that appears to be rabidly popular with trendy young things, neighborhood families, traveling foodies, singles, and couples alike.

A cheery blood orange and crimson facade with a retro painted sign announce Rubirosa’s presence. The pizzeria’s space on a Mulberry Street block shared by Balaboosta, Eight Mile Creek, and Torrisi Italian Specialties is narrow and quirky. The front area is primarily a bar, where diners without reservations nosh at high-top tables and tame groups of revelers enjoy reasonably-priced bottles of wine and artfully-concocted house cocktails. Towards the back of the front room and in the tiny back room, normal tables held for those parties with reservations wait. Rubirosa channels a homespun rusticity popular amongst casual eateries these days in New York – striped wallpaper covers the walls in one nook; tables are made from hefty hewn dark wood; pails of fresh Gerber daisies sit on the bar; mismatched framed black-and-white photographs of Italian neighborhoods hang neatly on the dark grey walls; hanging lanterns with soft scalloped edges shed a warm glow over patrons. Though not necessarily unique these days, the look is charming, comfortable, and a bit more upscale than your typical New York pizzeria.

Though Rubirosa bills itself as a classic pizzeria, it offers a full Italian menu with antipasti, pastas, pizza, and secondi. The bruschetta are a great way to start a meal – and a great value at $3 each. My favorite is the Meatball – a soft and savory traditional meatball atop a large piece of crusty fresh-baked Italian bread and coated in warm tomato sauce and melted Parmesan. Other options include the earthy and nutty Mushroom variety and the rich Caramelized Onion with pieces of braised duck. For a pizzeria, the salad options are quite sophisticated – beets with goat cheese, an iceberg wedge with bacon and vodka blue cheese dressing, a warm mozzarella caprese. Classic antipasti follows – delicately fried calamari, arancini stuffed with prosciutto and gooey fontina, roasted octopus with tomato and potato, and of course, an Italian-American homage to eggplant parmesan.

The pastas are all made in-house and range from a succulent lasagna with sausage AND meatballs for two to a decadent hand-rolled manicotti, ricotta ravioli and a refreshing whole wheat fettucini with asparagus and zucchini. The ‘black-and-white’ tagliatelle is an embarrassment of riches – a squid ink pasta accompanied by clams, mussels, scallops, and shrimp; it’s briny, silky, and perfect for seafood-lovers. Of course, despite this spectacular array of food, Rubirosa is best known for its wondrous ultra thin-crust pizzas. The crust is wafer-thin, crispy at the crust, and slightly chewy at the center. The toppings are layered on, but not too thickly. The vodka pizza, a house speciality, is light and airy, best with a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and a tossing of shredded Parmesan.

Rubirosa is a wonderful neighborhood establishment – a refreshingly laid-back restaurant in a neighborhood known for high prices, high fashion, and “high horses.” The service is efficient and friendly, the food accessible and reasonably-priced (for Manhattan), and the atmosphere congenial. Sure, the food isn’t haute gourmet or even perfectly-executed, but what does that matter when you can slurp it down with a $30 bottle of house wine (quite the bargain, if you ask me)?

Perfect For: post-shopping pigouts, lowkey date nights, weeknight quick dinners for Nolita locals, thin crust pizza fanatics, wining and dining, noshing at the bar

Rubirosa on Urbanspoon

Red Rooster: Where Crowds Crow For More…

Red Rooster, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s newest eatery just off 125th Street in Harlem, has opened with quite a bit of fanfare – from critics, from locals, from ‘foodies.’ There’s been so much hype and positive feedback that getting a reservation at ‘the Rooster’ is virtually impossible – it’s morphed into a game of patiently checking and double-checking the website each day, of calling the hostess at open, and of refreshing Opentable. Of course, you could just stop by – but for those of us that live a good 100+ blocks downtown, that option is more than a little daunting.

Red Rooster is beautifully designed – it’s bright and airy, chic yet ‘homey’, spacious, stuffed with Americana and trinkets that seem like nostalgic bits of Samuelsson’s life, pleasingly rustic, and so forth. It has a take-out market, a ‘breakfast nook,’ a full bar, and, of course, a restaurant. The breakfast nook is just a coffee corner, with baked goods and a smiling face, but it seems like the sort of ideal coffee stop for locals on their way to work in the morning, a refreshing break from the eponymous Starbucks. The bar is marvelous. Situated at the front of the space, it is mostly open to the street in clement weather, round and spacious, stocked with local beers, quirky liqueurs, infused liquors, and unusual wines. Around the circular bar, there is plenty of room for groups to imbibe the funky house cocktails or the wine on tap.

The dining room, oriented behind the bar in the back of the restaurant, is casual with wooden tables, sparsely set. The wall surrounding the partially-open kitchen is decorated as a faux-blackboard – with scribblings and etchings covering almost every inch. Here and there, you’ll see references to roosters – and a bright red statute of one stands proudly on a shelf. The look blends the rusticity of a remote farm with the ‘rustic chic’ trend overtaking Manhattan. Red Rooster is an illuminating cross-section of New York – grungy hipsters mix with Harlem residents, with West Village fashionistas, with adventurous corporate types, with people of all races, ages, and walks of life. In very few neighborhoods and under the direction of very few chefs could a restaurant attractive to so many different types of people exist successfully. Red Rooster excels magnificently in this regard.

The food served at Red Rooster Harlem tracks the twists and turns of Marcus Samuelsson’s life. In the past, Samuelsson has focused on upscale Scandinavian dining (at Aquavit), African fusion (at close Merkato 55), and even Japanese fare (at closed Riingo). Red Rooster represents a compilation of cuisines Samuelsson has experimented with in the past and that speak to his own multicultural history. In Helga’s Meatballs, diners get a rich taste of Stockholm; served with creamy mashed potatoes and sweet deep red lingonberries, the classic Swedish meatballs are addictive. In the Uptown Steak Frites, you can get a taste of old school fat-wallet New York; the 10oz thick sirloin is drenched in a truffle bearnaise sauce and topped with a sweet onion marmalade.

Much of the rest of the menu takes its cues from the Southern comfort food for which Harlem is known. The ‘mac & greens’ is a decadent twist on mac n’ cheese, made with a blend of comte, gouda, and good ole New York State cheddar; there’s a classic blackened catfish with fried pickles and a fried chicken with white gravy and hot sauce. In terms of starters, Samuelsson serves up a mean rendition of dirty rice, that’s slightly crispy and stuffed with shrimp and almonds; lump blue crab cakes are all crab meat, no breading, and wonderful with a thick spicy mayo. Similarly, the desserts are all Southern-inspired and walk the line between decadent and truly sinful. The black & white mud is a rich creamy cross between a pie and a cake, served on a chewy chocolate cookie crust; it’s all gooey chocolatey goodness that’s almost too rich to finish in one sitting. The coffee & doughnuts is comparatively lighter and Samuelsson’s original all-American take on profiteroles – and no, there is no cup o’ joe involved.

Red Rooster is perhaps not as revelatory as it has been lauded to be by everyone from Sam Sifton to my friends’ parents. Anywhere outside of Harlem, this restaurant would be well-received and well-liked, yet not obsessed over. However, Marcus Samuelsson’s passionate desire to bring sophisticated neighborhood dining to Harlem is admirable and has translated into the remarkable success that is Red Rooster. For people who like to eat out and explore New York by eating out, it’s a restaurant to be added to the ‘must-try’ list. Yet, if you’re not from Harlem and one to stick to eating out in your general neighborhood, I’d argue that you could find a similar environment with a similarly well-executed menu without having to venture to 125th Street.

Perfect For: drinks at the bar, fine dining hipsters, Manhattan North dining, adventurous Columbia students, Top Chef fanatics

Red Rooster on Urbanspoon

Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo: No Reinvention of the Wheel

Hecho en Dumbo, the former DUMBO-Brooklyn and now Bowery hipster Mexican hangout, has introduced a Chef’s Table. For a dark and ‘artfully grungy’ restaurant not necessarily known for its cooking, the introduction of a sleek Momofuku Ko-style table at the open kitchen is an interesting maneuver. And to mixed results, the Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo doesn’t whack the concept out of the park, but it isn’t a failure either. The five course prix-fixe menu is $55, a wonderful value for the generally high-quality cuisine; however, the food wasn’t so good or so innovative that it reinvented the wheel and I left not entirely sure what the kitchen meant to showcase through the Chef’s Table set-up.

The Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo is in the back of the restaurant, past the bar and the slightly grimy dining area. It’s a smooth pale wooden bar, overlooking the kitchen, with high-rise seats for eight. For bar seating, it’s surprisingly comfortable, and spacious enough so that you’re not knocking up against your neighbors. The only unfortunate element of the Chef’s Table design is that it’s meant to allow diners to watch the kitchen staff work, yet because of the bar’s height, all of the counter-top work and plating is hidden from sight. Only views of oven, the stovetop and the fryer are available – not exactly where all ‘the fun stuff’ happens! Despite being completely ignored by the kitchen staff for over 2 hours, the service was actually quite efficient and very friendly.

Of course, at a Chef’s Table, the emphasis on the food and not much else. The five-course meal at Hecho en Dumbo is elegant and tasty, though not mind-blowing. The progression was classic, starting with ceviche and ending with dessert. The official meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of a Wellfleet oyster on the half shell with an extremely spicy tomato soup ‘shot’ – the brine of the oyster, topped with a chunky salsa verde, and the sinus-clearing heat of the soup shot complemented each other beautifully and readied the taste buds for what was to come. The first course, a sea scallop ceviche perched atop a crispy tortilla with a generous swipe of creamy queso fresco and a thin slice of cucumber, was a study in textures. The crisp tortilla and crunch of cucumber contrasted with slippery ceviche was exciting; everything tasted so fresh and bright, it was a refreshing start to the meal. The second course was an interpretation of a classic octopus starter; the thick cuts of octopus were tossed with hearty florets of marinated caulflower in a generous drizzle of hot chorizo oil, which was so concentrated that it tasted exactly like bits of hearty chorizo; a Mexican surf n’ turf, this is a contender for favorite course of the night.

As someone not necessarily in love with fish, the third course, a grilled Spanish mackerel, was not my favorite. However, my friend Diana, a fish fan, argued that the preparation was just lovely – light, flaky, and moist – and that the accompaniments, including a silky celery root puree, balanced out the fishiness of the mackerel. In between the third and fourth courses, the kitchen offered a palate cleanser that almost stole the show from the prior three offerings. A lime and mezcal sorbet, this cleanser erased all the brine of seafood and tasted like a kicked-up frozen margherita; more please! With the fourth course, the meal took a turn for the richer, much to my delight. The kitchen delivered squab bathed in a bright orange pumpkin seed mole with a cactus souffle; the bird, while slightly difficult to eat elegantly, was perfectly cooked with a deep pink center and golden crispy exterior; the mole, a most unusual shade of orange, was complex and flavorful, with a hint of warm spice and some lingering heat. While the cactus souffle had very little flavor of its own, the lovely pale green hue looked lovely on the plate and the fluffy texture contrasted well with the meatiness of the squab. All in all, the fourth course was one of the most successful, striking a nice balance between familiar elements (bird, sauce, souffle) and surprising flavors.

The last course was absolutely the highlight of the night. A panna cotta made from Mexican chocolate and vanilla atop a hazelnut crisp and in a pool of house-made caramel and hibiscus creme anglaise, the dish was both beautiful and absurdly delicious. The panna cotta itself was just the right texture, firm and gelatinous, and the caramel was the type of stuff you would just want a bowl of to snack on. The swirl of pastel pink cream through the pool of caramel was stunning (and tasted great also). This dish was just about everything you could want out of a dessert course – bravo!

The Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo is a little of a strange experience. On the one hand, the food is mostly very good. It isn’t excellent and it’s not the most innovative ‘show your stuff’ Chef’s Table out there, but its generally delicious. On the other hand, I could not stop asking myself: “why is this a Chef’s Table?” I couldn’t grasp the point behind it. The chefs weren’t animated; there were no cooking pyrotechnics; the food wasn’t blow-your-mind innovative. That being said, if you’re a fan of modern Mexican food and you’ve got an appetite, it’s hard to say no to a $55 five-course fine dining prix-fixe!

Perfect For: people who love to cook, foodie couples, a great prix-fixe value, adventurous eaters

Hecho En Dumbo  on Urbanspoon

Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria: Another Mediocre Addition to McNally’s Middling Empire

Given what’s about to be said in this review, it may seem like I have some sort of personal vendetta against Keith McNally, the restauranteur behind Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria, given my vocal irritation with some of his establishments, most notably Schiller’s Liquor Bar. To cut to the chase, Pulino’s is exactly like every other McNally restaurant: mediocre food, crap service, heavily fabricated atmosphere. In fact, it’s so freakishly similar to his other Lower East Side eatery, Schiller’s, that I’m convinced they’re really just one in the same, despite an Italian menu at one and a straightforward American one at the other.

Pulino’s is (depressingly) completely lacking in any originality. It is almost garish, evidenced by the obnoxious oversized red neon sign emblazoned on both exterior sides of the corner spot. The medium-to-large dining room on the corner of Bowery and Houston is merely a reincarnation of Schiller’s: exposed brick, tiled floors, bric-a-brac-y metal furniture, backlit bottles of booze on multiple walls, stacked high to the ceiling. A vast array of untouched international newspapers and magazines are stacked in racks near the door, an additional touch of so-called charm that just strikes me as pretentious. Perhaps the most beautiful element of the restaurant, the large paned industrial-style windows, is the design’s saving grace, distracting diners with lush sunlight during lunch and pretty satisfying people-watching at night. The look of the restaurant is meant to evoke an old Italian pizzeria and yet, instead, it is a case study in the new Manhattan-style ‘chain’ restaurant, developed and executed by professional restaurant creators who’ve lost all their inspiration.

The menu is classic Italian. Expect traditional antipasti: baked ricotta, prosciutto, a variety of cheeses, mozzarella burrata, roasted olives. The baked ricotta is one of the shining stars, served creamy and just salty enough in a rustic crockpot with juicy and sweet roasted grapes and crusty Italian bread. Salads are also on the menu, in both appetizer and entree portions. Expect seasonal ingredients, sometimes Italian and sometimes not: roasted pumpkin and cabbage salad with pecorino and pancetta, roasted broccoli and hen of the woods mushrooms with escarole and parmigiano, seafood salad with roasted peppers, and an Italian rendition of salad nicoise. They are hearty, fragrant, and just about average.

In my opinion, it’s silly to visit a pizzeria without trying the pizza. Pulino’s can’t hold a candle to Motorino or Donatella, but at the heart of it, the pizza has a pretty tasty crust, a victory over the certainly mediocre toppings. Chewy and crusty in all the right places, with a slight char and a few bubbles, the crust is multidimensional and satisfying. The toppings options are dizzying, offering 12 different varieties of pies + a plethora of additional toppings. There’s a traditional Bianca pie, a mozzarella, the quattro formaggi, the classic Margherita, salsiccia, funghi, meatball pie, and a few funkier choices like spinach and egg, black cabbage and salame, or potato and egg. The quattro formaggi is gooey and bland; somehow, with four different and bold cheeses (mozzarella, fontina, gorgonzola, and grana), the flavor falls flat into a muddled mess. The polpettine pie, with beef meatballs and pickled green chilis, is a disaster, despite being the recommended by the server. The meatballs are small and dry, utterly devoid of moisture, and the pickled green chilis are unspeakably wrong on this pizza. Ick, ugh, and meh.

On top of all of this, the service is just plain strange. My party had three servers over the course of lunch, who kept repeating each other. One server made the dastardly mistake of recommending the polpettine pizza and the other gave me a water glass with orange juice pulp floating in it. Furthermore, the kitchen is slow and bad with timing. With 15 minutes elapsed between the delivery of my meal and my friend’s meal, the meal pacing was awkward, to say the least.

In short, Pulino’s is a hot mess. Let me count the ways: 1) unoriginal and charmless decor, 2) chain restaurant feel, 3) bland pizza in the East Coast’s pizza capital, and 4) confused and confusing table service. It’s hard to recommend a place that clearly seems to be surviving only on McNally’s pedigree and unfathomably blogger hype. Just skip it and head a few blocks North to Motorino, or better yet, across town to Donatella.

Pulino's Bar and Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Northern Spy Food Co: A Home Cook’s Dreamhouse

Northern Spy Food Co (yes, it’s a mouthful) is sweet. Not Dude, Where’s My Car? sweet, not saccharin sweet; sweet like your grandmother’s kitchen, like the inside of the perfect apple pie, like the smell of hay bales and freshly cut grass. Named after a New York variety of heirloom apples, Northern Spy Food Co is part-restaurant, part-local food product purveyor. The entire concept for Northern Spy rests on serving and selling the best regional products from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic; in short, it’s a locavore’s nirvana.

The tiny East Village restaurant is a bit off the beaten track, on 12th Street between A and B, yet it has a loyal following, both of locals and those who travel across Manhattan for the fresh market-driven food. The eco-friendly space, developed from as many recycled, reclaimed, and repurposed materials as possible, seats just about 30 between the square front room and back bar area. Even if you were to look closely, you’d be hard-pressed to notice that the dining room tables are taken from bowling alley lanes and the white-washing paneling is merely refurbished lumber yard scraps. Light fixtures hail from Ebay and vintage stores; the wallpaper seems familiar, probably taken straight from my grandmother’s living room; even a chicken coop is re-used, now housing the market’s formidable pickle selection. Perhaps you find this type of give-and-take decor kitschy or raggedy, but at Northern Spy, the final product is purely charming.
In such a homey and comfortable environment, you could expect nothing less than superlative comfort food. And that’s exactly what Northern Spy Food Co provides, with distinction. Based on what you’d find at neighborhood farm stands any given day, the true-to-America food is nostalgic: cool and creamy Chilled Cauliflower Soup, al dente Risotto with zucchini, turnips and marscapone, Roasted Chicken in lemon and natural jus, juicy heritage pork Meatballs in pecorino and marinara, chicken thigh and poached egg sandwich, dressed with sharp chimichurri sauce. The menu changes frequently, according to what is available, and specials abound; yet, the soul and the culture of the food at Northern Spy remains the same: classic, memorable, fresh, simple.
Recommended dishes include a remarkable gnocchi, seeped in creamy tomato sauce, served with crunchy baby peas, and caramelized slightly for a golden crunchy exterior, and the sweet and addictive peach pie, topped with funky homemade burnt caramel ice cream. The Freekeh risotto is for those seeking earthy soulfood – a whole wheat rice grain cooked al dente in clothbound cheddar and silky marscapone and surrounded by sliced zucchini and sweet turnips; it was rich, fulfilling, and the epitome of farm fresh cooking. While, I rarely order salads in restaurants as they infrequently hold true to the personality of the spot, Northern Spy’s varieties wow; they’re not your typical waistline-conscious salads and come loaded with fruits, vegetables, nuts, roots, and various proteins. Come prepared to order one to start – you won’t be disappointed!
Northern Spy Food Co is, in a way, just another farm-to-table neighborhood spot in the East Village, yet it rises above its (growing) competition with beautifully-executed cuisine, a warm and inviting atmosphere without an ounce of pretension, and a lovely diverse menu with something for everyone. It’s not hard to label Northern Spy as something special, for it glows warmly with the cozy nostalgia of American country cooking.
Perfect For: a dinner with friends in the neighbhorhood, cheap & casual date night, homesick Americans, pie lovers, the locavore movement, vegetarians dining with omnivores
Northern Spy Food Co. on Urbanspoon

Sorella: Downright Dreamy Italian

I love Sorella. It’s the type of place you write down and remember for future occasions, the type of place you return to time and time again for the remarkable experience, the type of place you mark as ‘special’. It’s not only the gorgeous Italian cuisine that’s worth raving about but also the no fuss no muss dining experience in a lovely spot where the Lower East Side meets Chinatown.
South of Delancey on Allen Street and across from Congee Village, Sorella’s located in an unusual spot for a high-brow and luxe Italian restaurant. Hidden behind heavy distressed wood doors, only a small burgundy sign alerts those looking for it that yes, you’re in the right place. The front room is a dark and sultry wine bar with high table tops, communal seating, bottles upon bottles of Italian wine twinkling in the low candlelight, requisite exposed brick, and inlaid photos of the Piedmont region, chef Emma Hearst’s culinary inspiration. The glass-ceilinged back annex is altogether different with a far brighter and more civilized atmosphere. Almost bare white walls, delicate modern metal ‘chandeliers’, and muted contemporary grey furniture are the blank canvas for Hearst’s electric small-plates Italian cuisine.
Now, I knew Sorella would be good. It benefits from strong buzz through foodie circles and almost unanimous praise from critics. Yet, even I was surprised by how good it actually was. Sorella’s Piedmontese menu offers 13 or so ‘Qualcosina’ or ‘A Little Something’. Sized between tapas and large plates, these tantalizing offerings are priced between $8 and $16 and are meant to be shared. Alongside the Qualcosina are 2-course Stasera Abbiamo pairings – essentially 1 Qualcosina and 1 special entree dish for $30. Each dish on the remarkably well-curated menu is more lovely than the last, ranging from a fresh watermelon salad with goat cheese to grilled quail with watercress & orange salad to ruby red shrimp risotto, beef agnolotti with parmesan & sage butter, and crispy veal sweetbreads with quince bacon marmalade.
My friend and fellow food blogger Zoe and I picked three Qualcosinas and 1 special entree dish. All four choices were delicious, ranging from truly extraordinary (the gnudi) to downright soul-satisfying (the sugar snap pea risotto). Perhaps one of the most remarkable pasta dishes I’ve ever had, the Salvatore Ricotta Gnudi with tomato jam and basil & sunflower seed pesto was like eating clouds. Each fluffy potato dumpling was impossibly pillowy, moist, and light – an all-around beautifully prepared dish. The Tajarin offered an entirely different sort of pasta dish than the gnudi. Made with a fettuccine-like egg noodle, lamb ragu, pistachios, mint, and black pepper ricotta, the Tajarin was hefty and complex. At first, the mint hits you hard, but once you get a taste of each distinct flavor, the dish is wonderfully complicated study in how to successfully pair flavors together.
The sugar snap pea risotto, a special for the evening, was distinctly less high-brow and complex than the other dishes, yet it showed that Chef Hearst knows how to cook up a mean risotto like the rest of them. Salty and savory with fresh sugar snap peas in the pods and chunky cuts of ham, the risotto was Piedmontese comfort food, something you’d want to eat over and over again on a chilly night. Surprisingly though, the house special is not a pasta dish. The Pate de Fegato, a dressed-up Egg McMuffin, shows Chef Hearst’s range and skill. A perfectly cut rectangle of crispy toasted English Muffin is topped with airy and light yet flavor-packed chicken liver mousse, a fried egg that erupts golden yellow yolk when cut, and crispy bacon bits; the effect is rich and round without being too much. A perfect starter, the Pate de Fegato is a must for all those visiting Sorella.
Small, hidden, and smart, Sorella is one of the better restaurants I’ve been to this year. It’s understated in a charming and unpretentious way. On walking in, while the spot is lovely and alluring, you can’t imagine how wonderful the food actually ends up being; it is hands-down one of the Lower East Side’s brightest shining stars.
Perfect For: first dates, curious foodies, hipster wine snobs, friends looking to catch up quietly, quick bites at the bar, civilized eating without formality

Sorella on Urbanspoon