Sessanta

60 Thompson St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 219-8119sessantanyc.com

-1

Not all that long ago if you saw a restaurant located in a hotel it was like the kiss of death. But that was before the likes of Maialino, NOMAD and Dirty French. So, when I heard all the rave reviews about this new place in the Thompson Hotel I said to myself, “Self, let’s add it to the list.”

Now, it just so happens that it wasn’t on the list for very long though, because I just recently had a business dinner there and got to see whether it was all that or all hype.

The hotel itself is rather quaint, like the street it’s on, but the restaurant is actually rather sizeable winding around corners and bars with its soothing wood, ribbon walls that almost give it a midcentury vibe.

Off on the wrong foot, we embarked with a Brunello that was very strong on the tannins almost to the breaking point, which didn’t do the food any favors, because it really didn’t complement a single dish. And it’s a shame too, because most of the food could’ve benefited from a little help.

Among the starters in need were the tuna crudo, which was what one might expect from a tuna crudo. Nothing more. Nothing less. Well, maybe except for the additions of zucchini and caper berries, neither of which moved the needle in either direction.

But far guiltier of not moving the needle were the beef tongue sliders, which were so surprisingly bland it felt like you were being cheated out of the gluttony you thought you were buying into.

Also on the bland list I would put the highly revered Struncatura Spaghetti (AKA Peasant Pasta). I had heard from friends and blogs alike that it was exploding with flavor. The saltiness of the anchovies, the heat of the chilies, the heat and saltiness of the neonata (a condiment from Calabria made from baby fish). But I guess the chef must’ve imploded under the pressure of serving the Ferocious Foodie, because what I got out of this dish was neo-nada. Go with the lamb ragu. It’s so much better. More on that later.

Moving up a notch from bland was the marinated calamari with puffed black rice and crunchy celery hearts, which proved to be a textural stroke of genius, contrasting greatly with the squid and making what could’ve been yet another snore just passably interesting. But even with that said, I would still opt for the braised octopus with couscous, apricots and turmeric. It was tender, flavorful and apart from the meatballs, the only thing I would ever order again.

Speaking of the meatballs (pictured), they are pretty amazing. Easily the best thing on the menu. But these ain’t your run of the mill balls. They’re made with spicy Italian sausage, red peppers and Sicilian honey, which almost acts like a candied coating, creating a hard outer shell, locking in the juices. But the true magic is when that honey and heat coalesce in your mouth to create a sonata of sumptuousness.

The other high point of the meal was the Tagghiarini (lamb ragu) pasta, made unique with crunchy bits of baked ricotta salata. The flavors of the ragu were bursting, the cheese was crunching- So then why isn’t it something I would order again, you ask? Because after a few bites the crunchy gimmick passes novelty and starts to become distracting and dare I say off-putting. Like crunchy bugs or burnt bits of lamb floating in your sauce. It’s great as a shared dish, but to commit to an entire bowl yourself is a bit overkill on the crunch.

Dessert also proved to be a tale of two Sessantas with the peach cake coming out dry and worthless. Whereas the cream filled puffs, an Italian take on profiteroles, were a far superior way to end your meal.

So, in all fairness, Sessanta is probably a three knifer, but because of all the hype, being lauded as one of the best new openings in New York according to Thrillist, it is teetering precarious on the edge of two, because apparently they have already started to slide. C’est la vie, as they say not in Italy.

3 teeth

Periyali

35 W 20th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 463-7890periyali.com

5UTd1FxkD38MLE-640m

Having just been to Greece last summer I was entering with a healthy dose of “food tude.” Hey, I kinda like that. Ferocious Foodie TM!

And while décor and service failed to impress, the food rose above expectation. Not that the menu is anything inventive. Truth be told it’s all of the usual suspects from octopus to mousaka and souvlaki to baklava.

Our meal started off with an amuse bouche of sorts, a Greek bruschetta is about the only way I can describe it. Crostini topped with feta tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. I’m not exactly sure why they offer it though. It’s not inventive, nor amazing. And if it’s simply to give you a little taste of something before your meal arrives, it would seem that the olives and bread would handily suffice. Instead, it only serves as a failed attempt to reach for a class of dining they simply aren’t.

After that we split a Greek salad that passed as ruffage and an octopus, which did everything it was supposed to, clean and simple and perfectly tender, yet somehow it just didn’t reach tentacle supremacy.

Oddly enough though, the whole branzino, while not too unlike the octopus, with its classic Mediterranean prep, proved to be spectacular! So flavorful and buttery. I haven’t loved a fish this much since Dory in Finding Nemo and I’ve had more than my fair share of whole fish, being that it’s practically the official meal of Turkey and I fancy myself to be an honorary Turk by association.

Bringing up the rear was the walnut cake and ice cream, which nosed out the baklava as our choice for dessert. In hindsight, I think I’d go baklava next time, because the walnut cake was a bit of a let down after experiencing the one at Gato. This one was a little on the dry side and desperately needed the ice cream to give it the moisture it was lacking.

On the boozy end of things, there are several tasty, affordable wine options and some on the pricier side well. We went with the Burnello, more on the pricier end, and it was excellent. Additionally, they complemented our dessert course with a complimentary dessert wine, which I also enjoyed.

All in all, I liked Periyali, but not enough to rush back. There are droves of better Mediterranean restaurants in the city and two right in the Flatiron alone, Almayass and Ilili, granted both of those are more middle eastern then Mediterranean, but the lines are so blurred between the two that it’s hard to tell where the tzatziki ends and the cacik begins.

3 teeth

Marta

29 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-1900martamanhattan.com

Web-Article-Marta-NYC-Flatiron-Italian-Danny-Meyer

So, while Danny Meyer is busy reconstructing Madison Square Park to accommodate a bigger and badder Shake Shack, apparently he decided to take up thin crust pizza as a hobby in lieu of burgers.

Located in the Martha Washington Hotel lobby, hence the origin of the name, the restaurant feels a little homeless, not being its own thing. Granted it takes up about 95% of the lobby, so perhaps it’s the lobby that’s truly homeless? All of that aside, they do a nice job with décor. Open and contemporary with a sizeable amount of seating. But don’t let that fool you. You practically have to sell a kidney to get a table for dinner. Fortunately for my internal organs, lunch reservations come much easier.

A quick bite, however, it most certainly is not. The service runs at an escargot pace, so if you’re doing a business lunch, I recommend blocking a good two hours, because two Diet Cokes took over 30 minutes to hit our table. Lucky for me I went with a glass of Brunello, which only took about a third of that.

The pies also take quite a while, nearly 45 minutes, but I’m happy to report that most of them were worth the wait. Especially the Testa made with pig face and celery. It’s so inventive and just as scrumptious. A close second was the carbonara. Just as the name implies, it’s topped with bacon and egg and fontina. And it’s damn fine.

The least impressive of the three was also the least inventive, the funghi, made with hen of the woods mushrooms. It’s certainly good if you have your heart set on shrooms, but compared to the likes of the funghi at Oenotri in Napa, this tastes like something you can get in the freezer section at Whole Foods. And I mean that with all due respect.

Now, assuming you’ve cleared your calendar and venture on towards dessert, here’s what you should know- it’s nowhere near as great as other reviewers claim. The affagato was easily the better of the two, but be warned, it’s very untraditional, made with honey and kumquats as opposed to espresso. The ice cream is incredible, however, and truly makes the dish shine. On the other hand, the chocolate and pistachio ice cream sandwich with mascarpone ice cream was significantly less radiant. About as basic as it gets, tasting like something you could get at TGI Fridays… back in the 80’s.

All in all Marta is certainly good for lunch, I cannot tell a lie. But definitely don’t sell off any vital organs to get in. There are droves of better pies all over the city.

3 teeth

Quality Italian

57 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 390-1111 •  qualityitalian.com

quality-italian

The name of this restaurant, and its sibling Quality Meats, might be the least alluring names in the restaurant industry other than maybe Fatburger. It reeks of defensiveness. “Ohhh, so you have to say that you’re high ‘quality,’ which obviously means you’re not.

Well, doubters be silenced, because the name is not defensive. It’s accurate. And it’s also quite nice. Again, nothing you would ever glean from a name that evokes images of neon yellow starbursts, but the décor really is well done. Cool and industrial with its exposed cement ceiling (which does make it a bit noisy) and iron beams, mixed with beautiful lighting fixtures, glass walls of wine and rich mahogany.

And speaking of wine, they have a terrific sommelier who buys exceptional wines in such large quantities that they can offer them at incredible prices. For example, we enjoyed a 2009 Brunello at two-thirds the price of what it should’ve been.

Our server, a poor man’s Galifanakis, was also very good, sporting a touch of that New York bite, while still managing to be very attentive and good with the suggestions.

Delving into the menu, which almost reads like part steakhouse, part Italian, I went with the most hyped up dishes I could, while stealing bites off of other plates at my table.

Of those hyped dishes the one I was the most skeptical about was the sausage and pepper toast. It didn’t even sound all that great on paper, like going to see a movie with a boring trailer. Always scary. Scary delicious that is. Sort of a take on a Chicago style hotdog or bratwurst, loaded with onions and hot peppers. Hard to go wrong there.

Unfortunately it was easier to go wrong elsewhere. Two of the other three starters at the table were sub par. The breaded oysters were disappointingly bland for something so loaded up with caloric goodies.

And the shrimp crudo was also a bit of a snore. Granted it tried to be something more, with the use of an herb infused marinade, but it just didn’t impress. On the plus side, the kale salad did.

The next hyped dish to arrive was the dry aged porterhouse agnolotti, and while it is most certainly good, it was the weakest of the three hyped dishes. Cooked al dente and loaded with wonderful flavors from the meat, it was undercut but dryness. And when I compare it to the likes of Manzo’s meat filled agnolotti, it is merely an apprentice in the presence of a master.

As for the non-hyped dishes, the bucatini with clams is very good and I highly recommend. Also served perfectly al dente, but done in a nice red sauce with some kick. The other was a filet cooked perfectly medium rare with a nice char on it, sidled next to a crispy bone marrow presentation that definitely made every bite of the meat sing.

But ohhh the sides. To even call them “sides” is actually a slight, because they are anything but supporting roles, they are Ultimates. And nobody puts baby in a corner, so move them away from the edges of the table- both the corn créme brulée and the Tuscan fries belong center stage. The corn, just as the name implies, is the love child between cream of corn and créme brulée, playing it faithful right down to the hard caramel top. So good you’ll want to shoot it into your veins. And as for the fries, they’re thick cut, with a nice dusting of herbs, salt and pepper. Crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy everywhere else.

Ending strong, our waiter braved the potential comparison to Marc Forgione recommending the s’mores dessert, and while Marc’s still reigns supreme, Quality Italian does a quality job. Served two ways, first as a chocolate tart with graham cracker crust and marshmallow topping, and second as an ice cream. Both are good, but I recommend eating them as separates, not together.

Not without its misses. Not without its hits. But the hits won the day, even in the face of surmounting hype, which brings us to the finally tally of…

4 teeth