eat. shop. love. nyc.


Bianca NYC: it’s like having your own Italian grandma
August 23, 2011, 10:35 am
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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.

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Great value at Gaia Italian Cafe
March 1, 2011, 4:06 pm
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I’ve been out of town for a month, so I can’t be held responsible for being a little late to the Gaia party. A friend of mine who is a small business owner in the neighborhood was raving about Gaia, saying she had started going there 4 or 5 times a week because of it’s good food, and it’s super cheap. This little walk-down Italian cafe opened up on Houston Street between Norfolk and Suffolk to little fanfare about a month ago, and it should be much more popular than it is given the great value.

The atmosphere is fairly generic, but I literally did a double take when I saw the prices on the menu. $5 for paninis on housemade flatbread? $7 salads? $7 risotto and gnocchi? $2.50 for freshly pressed pear or orange or apple juice? Good coffee for $1.75? And everything is made to order, not sitting around and reheated. In the neighborhood, most of the coffeeshops and cafes serving paninis are charging $7 and up.

One of the most expensive menu items was the burrata cheese served with mushrooms sauteed with parsley in a white wine sauce, and that was just $11. And it was good. I would slap a baby for some good burrata, and this was it.

Gaia offers a fantastic $12 Italian Brunch deal on the weekends that includes any panini or lasagna of your choice, a fresh fruit juice, a Nutella-stuffed pastry, and a coffee. I strongly recommend the pear juice – it’s delicious!

The speck panini with pickled vegetables and cheese was phenomenal, and the prosciutto brie and chicken pesto paninis were also very tasty. There is no reason these sandwiches should be $5. I think owner Gaia Bagnasacco is undercharging for everything on her menu by at least a couple dollars. I don’t know how long these very low prices will last, so you should definitely check it out now.

Eat: Gaia Italian Cafe (LES) 251 Houston Street at Norfolk. (646) 350-3977.



Brunch & 5 courses of pig at ‘inoteca
October 17, 2010, 11:01 am
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It can be tough to grab a seat at always-bustling ‘inoteca on the Lower East Side. The constant bustle is understandable. The small plates are tasty, and ‘inoteca offers a vast selection of wine, featuring over 600 selections by the bottle and 25 by the glass or half carafe from the many wine-making regions of Italy.

One trick for scoring a table is to go for brunch instead of trying to elbow your way in at dinnertime. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am until 4:00pm, which is earlier than most LES restaurants which open at 11 or noon. Click here for the menu (scroll down for brunch under Prima Colazione).

My brunch go-to is the truffled egg toast ($9), which is essentially a fancy bird in a nest – just better bread with better cheese and a richer, truffle-oil laced egg served with bits of asparagus. Asparagus, eggs, and parmesan cheese are a combination sent from the heavens. You just can’t go wrong. Add truffle oil and some crusty bread and the combination is elevated to something otherworldly.

If you’re in the mood for something a bit heartier, go with the egg bollito (beef) or egg porchetta (pork). It’s an open-faced egg and meat sandwich, but the meat is so well seasoned and one whiff of the herbs will get you salivating.

If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, there’s also the warm farro with roasted fruit. Yum! And of course, it’s breakfast, so why shouldn’t you have a mimosa or some prosecco to wash it all down?

If you’ve got your heart set on dinner, you can take your chances with trying to fanagle a table sans reservation, or you can sign up for one the upcoming pig-centric dinners. Starting in October, the ‘ino restaurant group will be hosting a five-course dinner highlighting the choicest cuts of their Raven and Boar Farm pig prepared according to various Italian regional cooking styles. The first dinner is Tuscan-themed and takes place tomorrow at corsino, ‘inoteca will host an Emilia-Romagna themed dinner in November, and the third and final dinner will be Alto-Adige-themed at ‘inoteca e liquori bar in December.

  • corsino: Monday, October 18th, 8:00pm, Toscana
  • ‘inoteca: Monday, November 15th, 8:00pm, Emilia-Romagna
  • ‘inoteca e liquori bar: Monday, December 13th, 8:00pm, Alto-Adige

Tickets include the five-course dinner, wines paired with each course, tax and gratuity. The price is $160 per person. Additionally, if you’ve got money to blow and you love Italian cooking and more importantly, pork, then a ticket to all three dinners can be yours for the discounted price of $400.

Eat: ‘inoteca (LES) 98 Rivington at Ludlow, New York, NY 10002. (212) 614-0473