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.


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.

Tangy-sweet red cabbage and fennel salad
January 25, 2010, 12:43 pm
Filed under: Cook, Eat | Tags: , , , , , , ,

My friend Shruti had a few people over and she had planned to make a potato-dill quiche and honey crepes. I volunteered to bring a salad, since I thought she might want something tangy, or as Mario Batali would say, the acid component, to accompany the starch-heavy dishes. I had read somewhere recently that red cabbage was among the healthiest of foods that Americans rarely eat, and I remembered that my boss had made a red cabbage, fresh fennel, green apple and dried cranberry salad for an office luncheon once, along with a dressing made from 7 different vinegars.

I never got the recipe from my boss, so I decided to wing it. The salad is simple, beautifully colored, healthy, and elegant. The dressing I made does not use 7 different vinegars because I didn’t want to buy a bunch of vinegars I would use once in a blue moon, and I also have no clue what vinegars she used anyway. So here is my version of red cabbage and fennel salad; if you prefer, you may substitute oranges, mandarin oranges, or mango for the green apple. Pretty much any tart, sweet fruit will do. Shruti happened to have some lovely blood oranges on hand, so we added a diced blood orange to the mix and it was even more delicious. Continue reading