eat. shop. love. nyc.

Bianca NYC: it’s like having your own Italian grandma
August 23, 2011, 10:35 am
Filed under: Eat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Or a mini army of little Italian grandmas in the inimate, white-paneled, rustic shabby-chic candlelight that is Bianca. In reality, I’m pretty sure the kitchen at Bianca is manned by a bevy of super talented and hardworking Ecuadorians under the direction of Emilia-Romagna native and chef-owner Giancarlo Quaddalti, but I like the imagery of some sweet Italian nonna hand-shaping meatballs and whipping up a mean red sauce next to a blazing fire.

Bianca was one of the very first restaurants I checked out upon moving to New York City in 2008. It’s good, honest Italian food, nothing fancy or pretentious about it. Since then, it has remained a stalwart of my delight-your-out-of-town-guests-and-prove-living-in-NYC-can-be-affordable-to-non-believers arsenal. Nothing on the menu costs more than $15 and there are a couple bottles of wine for less than $30, so it’s especially great if you’re looking to watch what you’re spending without sacrificing ambiance or quality of food.

My go-tos at Bianca are the gnocco fritto with charcuterie (fried dough puffs with stuff-it-yourself cured meats – $9) and the insalata carciofini (artichoke salad – $8.50) to start, the tagliatelle alla bolognese (tagliatelli pasta with meat sauce – $9.50) and the straccetti di manzo (thinly sliced pan-seared filet mignon with rosemary potatoes – $15) as mains, and the tortino di cioccolata (chocolate mousse cake with dark chocolate ganache – $6.50) and the tiramisu ($6.50) for dessert. You also cannot possibly go wrong with any of their pasta specials of the day.

The artichoke salad (above) is a salad of julienned raw artichoke that’s been marinated in olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper, topped with thin slices of shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese. I’ve never had anything quite like it before, but apparently it is a dish common in central Italy in the winter when winter artichokes are abundant. I found a great recipe for the salad on Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, complete with a tutorial on how to trim an artichoke. I will definitely be trying out this out at home.

I veered from the usual suspects recently and tried the tagaliolini ai frutti di mare (seafood pasta – $12.50 – pictured above). Clams, calamari, shrimp, and mussels sauteedin garlic and served with a light tomato sauce. I found myself wishing this dish had some spice to it – it’s nothing a generous sprinkling of red pepper flakes wouldn’t have helped, but I was in a rush and it was a hassle trying to get our server’s attention and the dish was still tasty as it was, I just like my seafood pasta in red sauce with a little kick.

My only true complaint? They don’t take reservations. So arrive really early (they open at 5 pm daily – it’s usually not too hard to get a table before 7) or really late (like after 9:30), especially if you have a party larger than 2 people. If you don’t mind waiting a bit, sidle up to the bar at Von next door. They’ll let you bring your wine from Von over to Bianca, or you can have your food served to you at Von if Bianca’s full and you’re able to get a table at Von. Von does take reservations, by the way. If you live in the area, you lucky duck, you can also order Bianca to-go.

Note: Bianca is cash only. There’s a Chase on Bowery at Bleecker, though, so no worries if you have to run to the ATM; it’s not far.

If you’re uptown in UWS, sister restaurant Celeste on Amsterdam between 84th and 85th is supposed to be similar, as well.

Eat: Bianca (Bowery/NoHo) 5 Bleecker St. between Bowery and Elizabeth. Open daily from 5 pm.


Artichoke carpaccio, s’il vous plait
April 22, 2010, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Cook, Eat | Tags: , , , , ,

As a New Yorker, I should probably be familiar with Meatpacking brunch mecca Pastis, right across from the Gansevoort. I’ve never been there.

But I did have an opportunity to dine at the Pastis (who knew it was a chain?) on the Rue Commandant Andre in Cannes, just north of the Croisette, and I had an epiphany. An artichoke epiphany.

One of the featured starters is an artichoke carpaccio. So simple, and so elegant. Hearts of artichoke are thinly sliced and scattered about a plate, drizzled lightly with good olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and generously topped with paper-thin slices of aged parmesan.

Golden Globe Artichokes. Photo credit:

Heaven! Would be absolutely perfect for a summer dinner party out on a patio or rooftop somewhere. I would recommend adding a little color with a parsley and tomato garnish, though both are really extraneous, or even coarsely chopped sundried tomatoes and basil. Capers would also add color and salt, but I am not a huge fan of capers, so I’d rather have a plain-looking artichoke carpaccio. If you are an unapologetic carnivore and you must have meat in every dish you eat, artichoke carpaccio is also often served with beef or tuna carpaccio. The dish can be made uber-luxe with some caviar or truffle oil, or it can be enjoyed in its glorious simplicity.

If you’re using a fresh artichoke, make sure to have several on hand as each heart only has so much meat in it. I actually have no idea how to prepare a fresh artichoke, so this is going to be my next project when I get home. I confess, I use artichoke hearts from a jar whenever a recipe calls for artichoke. In my defense, I don’t think I’m the first cook to be intimidated by the spiny, many-layered flower/vegetable. After reading about artichokes for the last hour or so, though, I’m feeling pretty brave. I’m going to cook a few whole and eat the leaves with a lemon Kewpie mayo based dip, then use the hearts the next day for the carpaccio! Maybe one day I’ll even get to be as advanced as the folks over at The Artichoke Blog.