Contemporary French in a Cozy, Downtown Setting


La Sirene
558 Broome St. between 6th Ave. and Varick St.
South Village


Escargot - La Sirene

Escargot – La Sirene

With fast-casual dining now ubiquitous, it’s nice to sit down to a proper French meal once in a while. La Sirene is tucked in a cozy pocket in an area called South Village, south of Greenwich Village and next to Chinatown. It’s a spot perfect for unwinding with a long meal of contemporary French cuisine.


Steak tartare - La Sirene

Steak tartare – La Sirene

At a press dinner last week, we had the chance to try a variety of menu items. While many of the dishes were a variation on classic French food, there are also many classics on board.

The best way to start any French meal is with
an order of roasted escargots in a garlicky, buttery sauce. The escargots at La Sirene were plump and bursting with flavor. The tools for escargots are actually very easy to use: one is for holding the hot shell, and the other simply for piercing the meat. Bread dipped in the buttery sauce was necessary and absolutely delicious. Another highlight was foie gras torchons, very decadent but actually on the lighter side in this case.

Hanger Steak - La Sirene

Hanger Steak – La Sirene

Each entree came with carrot puree, haricots vert, butternut squash and chayote squash. It was great having a variety of veggies to cut into the richness of the meat entrees. My entree was seared hanger steak with roasted garlic and parsley, and the meat had a nice char and crunchy crust. The showstopper though was the filet mignon entree, served with foie gras paté, shallots and a port and red wine truffle sauce. It boasts bold flavors while somehow remaining light and not overly filling.
That seemed to be the theme with a lot of the food at La Sirene – satisfying and incredibly flavorful without weighing you down.“French doesn’t necessarily mean heavy every time,”
Chef Didier Pawlicki said.


Chocolate profiteroles w- ice cream - La Sirene

Chocolate profiteroles w- ice cream – La Sirene

Of course there was room for dessert. All of the pastries are made by Pawlicki and are as fresh as they are in Paris. Nothing is made more than 48 hours in advance, with 48 being the absolute maximum. We had to have the tarte tatin dramatically flambéed, which always makes things more exciting. Unfortunately, that was the most disappointing dessert as it got too soggy in the caramel sauce. The chocolate profiteroles more than make up for it, filled with delicious homemade ice cream and topped with whipped cream. The choux chantilly were lovely and offered a lighter sweetness which I always love. Definitely do not skip dessert here.

Pawlicki opened La Sirene in 2007, his first of a few restaurants in the city. The restaurant has recently started serving lunch Fridays through Sundays.

French-African Delights in Gramercy Park – Review of Ponty Bistro


Ponty Bistro
218 Third Ave. between 18th and 19th St.

Ponty scallop

Ponty scallop

Chef Alhadji A. Cisse has been serving French and African delights at neighborhood spot Ponty Bistro since 2008. His modern takes on both cuisines highlight fresh ingredients with his own updates, twists and turns combining the flavors of West Africa and Senegal with Mediterranean and French methods.

The favorite of the night was moules Africana, mussels in a broth of coconut milk, garlic, red curry, and other spices Cisse wants to keep secret. On the menu it’s served with fries, unlike at most New American restaurants, where fries have to be ordered separately. This entree costs $18. A dish like this is easily one of my favorite things, and this one had just the right amount of spices to wake up the palate without overwhelming the taste of the fresh mussels.

Other prices are reasonable too. A lobster BLT runs for $15, and a very flavorful hanger steak entree with mashed potatoes and spinach runs for $19.

I can’t remember the last time I saw the words “early bird dinner,” but Ponty offers a $25 three-course early bird deal from 4pm-6:30pm Monday through Sunday. It seems like a great chance to sample a few items at a low cost.

Cisse and his cousin, Chekh Cisse, who runs a second location in Harlem, are from Senegal and moved to New York City in 1995. Ponty is named for a boulevard in Senegal. The chefs have worked for Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Ponty Bistro on Urbanspoon

Spiegel Serves Cuisine with International Flair


26 1st Ave. at 2nd St.
East Village
(212) 228-2894/

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Spiegel, a bright and airy spot serving “international cuisine” in the East Village.


Baked Feta – Moroccan tomato pepper sauce, eggplant, Kalamata olives, grilled pita

If you got your passport stamped for eating your way around Manhattan’s East Village, you would have a lot. There are tons of international dining options, and of course many places reflect a fusion of two cuisines. Spiegel’s menu reflects mostly Israeli, Moroccan, and other Mediterranean influences, aiming to bring a full-circle global variety to one place. A hint of other nationalities adds to the mix.

“We didn’t want to limit the food to a country or a state,” owner Shmulik Avital said.


Vegetarian Couscous

Avital grew up in Beer-Sheva in Israel with Moroccan parents, and had Indian, German and other international neighbors growing up, he said. Schnitzel is on the menu, served with jasmine rice and tahini.

My favorite dish was the heartwarming baked feta with Moroccan tomato pepper sauce, eggplant and olives served in a cast iron pan with house-made pita. It was the best dish for a crisp Fall evening, and the spices were just right.

Executive Chef Dario Tapia formerly worked at Westville and was pastry chef at Maison Kayser. He takes the reign on Spiegel’s main menu and pastries as well. The flan was outstanding and so was the beautiful apple tart, just in time for the season.


Schnitzel Plate



Spiegel is named for Sam Spiegel, the legendary Hollywood producer who was the first to win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar three times for On the Waterfront, The Bridge On the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Spiegel opened in May in a space that was a deli. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Spiegel on Urbanspoon

A spirited event with the Village Voice


The Village Voice’s Holiday Spirits Event
Studio Square
35-33 36th Street

Long Island City, Queens


Mixing a vat of Tito’s Handmade Vodka

Mixing a vat of Tito’s Handmade Vodka



The Village Voice hosted its first Holiday Spirits tasting event appropriately, on the night the prohibition act was repealed in 1933.  The event featured some of the best local distilleries in the New York area, most only established in the past two years due to a huge influx in the craft/micro distilling scene.

It is a great time to be a part of this movement and most in the business agree; this is not just a trend.  Representatives from Atsby Vermouth and Greenhook Ginsmiths both agree that the huge inrush of micro distilleries will serve to weed out the weak – whose product just isn’t up to par – making way for a new brand of the hard stuff.  Produced in small batches with quality ingredients and specialized distilling methods, now is a very exciting time in the world of alcohol.  This generation’s version of the bartender, the mixologist (and home cocktail enthusiasts alike) have upped the ante in search of the new and the better (or is it the tried and the true of decades past?), propelling their cocktail making to new heights (there is after all, only so much you can do with well vodka).
Highlights from the Village Voice event included tastings fromAtsby’s Vermouth, Greenhook Ginsmiths, and Dutch’s Spirits, all featuring a new, old-world take on their respective focus.

A festive display of Atsby’s Vermouth

A festive display of Atsby’s Vermouth

Atsby’s Vermouth changed the way I thought about what vermouth is and should be – a well-balanced liquor of fortified wine and botanicals.  Vermouth is no longer a hasty splash in my martini, but instead a drink to be sipped and enjoyed all on its own.  Atsby’s two styles of vermouth, the Amberthorn and the Armadillo Cake provide a pleasing drink, whatever your mood and are a nod to both the grungy underbelly of New York at the turn of the last century (Atsby’s – an acronym for the Assembly Theaters on Broadway) and to the present (and hopefully the future) – a time when the elevated cocktail has a place – something that we can be both proud to serve AND to drink.

Greenhook Ginsmith’s showing off their product

Greenhook Ginsmith’s showing off their product

The Greenhook Ginsmith’s also currently have just two products (and quality products they are); the world’s first beach plum gin (a local riff on England’s Sloe Gin) and an American Dry.  Both, the most fragrant gin I have ever encountered, sweet and inviting, due to a low temperature vacuum distillation process which preserves the aromatics in the alcohol and provides us a purer drink.  The stand out for me in this pair was the American Dry, which has since become a staple in my liquor cabinet (where I also quickly retired my tonic water).  Fragrant, smooth, and full of flavor – yet not for the faint of heart.

Dutch’s Bitters

Dutch’s Bitters

Dutch’s Spirits goes the moonshine and bitters route on the footprint of an age-old moonshine distillery in upstate New York.  Think Northerners are inept in the moonshine department?  Think again.  Dutch’s Sugar Wash Moonshine packs a punch and is quite the versatile drink (check out some recipes here).  I had the opportunity to try each of Dutch’s three styles of bitters with a bit of moonshine, and decided that I could see myself sipping on a cocktail with any of them.  The Colonial, Boomtown, and ProhiBitters each have a distinct flavor profile sure to spruce up your next cocktail.
There were so many more notable distilleries at the event, each with its own unique product – Scorpion Mezcal and Nahmias et Fils, for example – too many to list them all and too many to even try in just one night.  What I was most taken with the event was the passion which filled the room.  This micro-distillery (or whatever you’d like to call it) thing is still new enough that the scantily-clad promo girls aren’t the ones selling the liquor – it’s the men and women who have poured countless hours into crafting what they think is the perfect booze.   It’s their passion and their vision all while possessing the utmost respect for the rich history that comes with the territory.  The roaring 20s have certainly come back with a vengeance (sans the actual act of prohibition) and with it, the idea that we can enjoy the cocktail again.  Cheers.

Where the good times roll like Mardi Gras in Midtown – Review of Masq


306 E 49th St
(212) 644-8294
Midtown East

As 2013 draws to a close and we read our umpteen year in review round-ups in food, I would like to draw attention to a soulful and  truly original restaurant that opened its door on a sedate Turtle Bay block in March.

A cheerful venue recreating spirit of Mardi Gras from the colorful Venetian masks to the Persian rugs  and the decadent hues of crimson that cover the cozy divans and armchairs in its mood-lit lounge. The atmosphere is expertly accompanied by a New Orleans-inspired menu and a cocktail list with enough bourbon and sazerac mixes and a regular appearance of mint julep to do the Big Easy proud in the Big Apple.

There are many reasons why Masq deserves a capture on any foodie’s radar. Not at all the sort of place you’d expect to find in the high forties nestled between the UN and corporate banking establishments, Masq is a soulful gem in the eastern-most reaches of Midtown Manhattan. For starters, the doors to the venue open up to a lively New Orleans-inspired lounge area which gives way to  a gorgeous dark-wood horse-shoe bar fixture, seating twenty or more guests. The lounge extends to an area with more intimate seating options such as high tables or cozy sofas and arm chairs with coffee tables. It sets a warm and comfortable ambiance.

Offering an impressively executed lunch and dinner menu laced with many of New Orleans-inspired dishes and ingredients by Chef Marc Getzelman, and a daily lunch special and happy hour deal that goes from 4pm – 8pm,  Masq caters to the gambit of guests from foreign dignitaries to poetry slammers and indie singer-songwriters and open-mic adventurers–Masq has three dining areas and has a stage area for live performances– and everything in between.


Turkey, Brie Arugula, Sliced Apple & Honey Mustard on a French Baguette


Beet Salad with Organic Greens, Candied Walnuts, Green Apple w/ Raspberry Vinaigrette

Having the fortune of working literally around the corner from Masq, I frequently avail myself of its  $10.95 lunch special, which consists of a two course meal–a baguette sandwich with choice of chips or salad–and the choice of a glass of wine or beer. Prepared with quality ingredients and generously portioned,  it’s thoroughly satisfying and unbeatable deal!

Beyond the special, the affordable lunch menu (most items are in the $10-$15 range) encompasses delicious, affordable options including salads, flatbreads and grilled panini. Featured above is a delightful beet salad. Served with a fresh organic greens and a generous sprinkling of candied walnuts and slices of brie cheese (a requested substitution for warm goat cheese), it’s a healthy and fulfilling lunch.

Having dined at Masq on several occassions and recently the guest of a press dinner it hosted, I’ve had the opportunity to sample a wide array of the menu. Featured below are some of my  favorites.

Masq - Mac 'n Cheese Croquettes

The mac ‘n cheese croquettes are a hands-down must try at Masq. These baseball-sized croquettes come fried to perfection. The crisp panko-covered crusts give way to a heavenly-rich bacon, cheddar, jalapeno flavored mac n’ cheese with a side of Remoulade sauce. 


Masq - Shrimp Po' Boy

Shrimp Po’ Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll

The Shrimp Po’ Boy is an excellent nod to New Orleans. Prepared with fresh fried jumbo shrimp and elegantly served on a delicate pad of Hawaiian bread and a slaw of iceberg, remoulade and Cajun spices, it’s a fun and flavorful twist on the beloved slider and one worthy of a spot on any best sandwiches list.

Masq - salmon

Asian Marinated Salmon

Somewhat of a departure from the Cajun flair is the Asian Marinated Salmon. A generous portion of fresh and lean farmed salmon deliciously marinated in a medley of sweet and tart Asian sauces, this entree was beyond enjoyable–it was outstanding.

Masq - Crab Cakes

Maryland Crabcakes

Served with a Remoulade  Sauce and spicy Tartar sauce, these succulent thick patties of  sweet and tender lump crab meat are great both as an entree or shareable appetizer!

Masq - Jambalaya

A staple of New Orleans Creole cuisine, Masq’s Jambalaya will please both New Orleans  aficionados and initiates. This hearty rice stew features tender slices of white meat chicken and chunks of Andouille sausage. I particularly enjoyed the smoky, peppery flavor notes that the sausage lent to the dish. Chef Getzelman signs this dish with a scoop of goat cheese.

All dishes can be finely paired with selections from a global wine list or an extensive cocktail list. 

Friendly service, a vibrant atmosphere,  favorable pricing and an accommodating space consisting of three dining rooms make Masq a great place for an evening among friends, a private party or a place to end the day with a chill, easy-going vibe and fine food and drink. 

Last but not least, if you’re finding yourself inspired by this review and in need of last minute New Year’s Eve plans, Masq will also be hosting a New Year’s Eve masquerade party.  Early Bird Tickets $80, Tickets at Door $90 Purchase of Ticket Includes: 5hr Open Bar, 2hr Buffet Style Apps, LIVE Music, NYE Party Favors & Midnight Champagne Toast to Bring in the New Year!  Click here for more info.

MASQ on Urbanspoon



Relaunch brings good spirits to Long Island City! Review of Crescent Grill Relaunch


Crescent Grill
38-40 Crescent Street,
Long Island City
Dutch Kills
(718) 729-4040/

When a New York City restaurant gets its liquor license, it’s a reason to celebrate!

Crescent Grill in Long Island City, also just added a gallery in the front of the restaurant featuring local artists and welcomed Chef de Cuisine Milton Enriquez.

Chef Shaun Dougherty was in good spirits Thursday night, as he greeted guests and reflected on the journey that brought his 100-seat New American restaurant to a former hair goods shop in Long Island City.

“I want to be able to say ‘I’ve been on this corner since 2013,’” Dougherty said.

Dougherty, who said his favorite high school class was Home Ec, hails from Johnstown, Pa. and opened the restaurant with his brother, Daniel, who has lived in Long Island City for 30 years. He considered opening the restaurant near State College, home of Penn State University’s main campus until his brother came aboard with the idea of bringing it to Long Island City.

Dougherty’s focus is on local, fresh food, and he really means it. He’s at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket every Sunday to pick up his goods from farms like Ronnybrook Dairy. He’s been using the same Western Pennsylvania farm to source his meats since 1993. “Farm-to-table” isn’t just a trend for him.

Pan seared Day Divers' Scallops: bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger

Pan seared Day Divers’ Scallops: bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes, and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger

duck confit pasta at Crescent Grill resized

Pappardelle Pasta: duck confit, butternut squash, sage, brussels sprouts leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano

For appetizers, we tried local salmon with citrus creme and a truffled mushroom quiche. For an entree, I indulged in one of my favorite seafoods, pan seared diver’s scallops, which are handpicked by licensed scuba divers. The dish had a shredded Asian-style salad of bean sprouts, Daikon radish, cherry tomatoes and peanuts with a spicy citrus ginger dressing, which was a light and lovely accompaniment to the scallops.

The pappardelle with duck confit and butternut squash was certainly rich and hearty but the portion was just enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. All the flavors were just right and went together perfectly, with the brussels sprouts leaves helping to lighten it up just a touch. It was a hit!

There will soon be a private dining room downstairs, where guests can watch the kitchen staff work their magic.

The Dutch Kills neighborhood is looking good these days. Dutch Kills Centraal is down the street. A former auto-garage is now M. Wells Steakhouse, closer to Queensboro Plaza, but not far from Crescent Grill. New York City staples Murray’s Cheese and Amy’s Bread have outposts near Queensboro Plaza as well. The area has been home to tons of artists and families who’ve lived here for years. Only a few subway stops from Times Square, there are tons of hotels and office buildings nearby. As more businesses keep popping up, it could very well be the next Bushwick.

The energy here is infectious, with people excited and outwardly supportive of new businesses, and warmly welcoming of new visitors to the area. I can’t wait to go back.

Crescent Grill on Urbanspoon

A night at Circo with Chef Alfio Longo and Ceretto Wines

120 W 55th Street
Midtown West
212-265-6119 /

Circo hosted an engaging Alba truffle dinner prepared by Circo’s executive chef, Alfio Longo.  A representative from Ceretto wines was also present with a well-paired wine for each of Chef Alfio’s courses.

The night started with passed canapes in Circo’s front bar area and a glass of Cerretto’s, very drinkable, Arneis Blange – a balanced, fruit forward, but not too sweet, white.  Circo’s public relations manager Jean Lee was a gracious host as was Circo’s maitre’d, Bruno – a long time member of the Maccioni family restaurant empire.
The small group of food bloggers and other food industry-types made our way over to the main dining room for dinner.  As we waited anxiously for our first course, a basket of white Alba truffles were passed around the table and dazzled us with their intoxicating scent and the sheer size of the truffles themselves.

A basketful of white Alba truffles!

A basketful of white Alba truffles!

Dinner began with a decadent frisee salad featuring a quail and foie gras stuffed puff pastry and a rich Perigourdine sauce.  The Asij, 2009 wine from Ceretto’s Barbaresco winery in North Western Italy was a fluid, spicy wine which both tamed and complemented the more emerging flavors of the salad.


Frisee salad

Frisee salad

A second, pasta course was served paying homage to the terrior of North Western Italy – highlighting both the porcini mushroom filling of the ravioli and the white truffles from Alba which were shaved on top.  Butternut squash dotted the plate in an elegant, yet attainable dish.  Strong tannins in Ceretto’s Bernardot, Barbaresco added to the earthy nature of the dish and was an appreciated nod to the featured ingredients – the Barbaresco winery and Alba just about 5 miles from each other in Italy!



Porcini mushroom tortellini

As the small group of us chatted about everything from the world of food marketing to weddings and the New York City public school system; Chef Alfio’s menu continued to delight us.  His simple preparations, highlighting the fine ingredients used to assemble each dish were a joy to consume and while a meal rich with white truffle and foie gras could cross the line of pretention rather easily, Chef Alfio’s cooking exudes the humbleness of his own person.

The third course was a melt in your mouth, sous-vide beef cheek with kale and pureed pumpkin topped with a cured ham crisp (which you can also order from Circo’s fall dinner menu, $34).  The ruby colored Brunate Barolo, was hard pressed to stand up to the full-flavored beef cheek, but brought with it fine notes of white truffle which complemented the theme of the dinner and was a full, flavorful wine on its own.


Beef cheek with pureed pumpkin and kale

Beef cheek with pureed pumpkin and kale


‘Molten’ chocolate was poured over a chocolate sphere in an entertaining take on dessert and was a great way to end the meal, especially paired with the Moscato d’Asti, Vinaioli di Santo Stefano.  Notes of caramel and apple were perfect for the autumn night and made the coldest night of the year thus far, that much more bearable!

Circo on Urbanspoon


A Celebration of Schmaltz at 92Y


Michael Ruhlman loves fat.

Dumplings cooked in schmaltz

Dumplings cooked in schmaltz

Particularly, he is passionate about schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat. Though he’s “100% goy,” Ruhlman’s affection led him to write, The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat. He talked about this venture Monday at 92Y.

Ruhlman discussed how the fat was used for survival amongst Eastern European Jews, since oil was unavailable and lard was not Kosher. Schmaltz is essentially chicken fat and onion browned together. Ducks or geese were also used to create schmaltz.

It’s a rare gem, since it’s not something you can go grab from a store. Though you may be able to find it at a deli counter, it really should be made from scratch. It was an important staple in traditional Jewish cuisine, an essential ingredient used to hold together meals.


Chopped liver and dumplings

Chopped liver and dumplings


“We’ve lost sight of how fundamental [food] is,” he said.

The tradition of creating and utilizing schmaltz was almost lost once people started thinking it was unhealthy, Ruhlman said. He wants to keep the tradition alive, and believes it’s healthier than butter. He suggests using schmaltz to make latkes, kugel and fried potatoes.

The first time I had schmaltz was life-changing. I may have tried it as a kid, but I don’t remember. The moment I recall was at Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in the Lower East Side. A classic old-school New York City establishment, this place gave me a glimpse of how my grandparents used to cook. (My dad’s mother was Roumanian.) Though my dad stared in fake horror as I drenched my bread in schmaltz, I’m sure he did the same thing when he was younger, and probably was probably jealous as I let the chicken fat and fresh bread melt together in my mouth.

Ruhlman is a huge advocate of cooking at home, and the idea of schmaltz represents something special to him.

I agree with his food ideology. Cooking at home implies that you know what’s in your food, as you’ve sourced the ingredients and created the results yourself. If you’re going to cook a chicken, you should use all the parts. Using the fat to make schmaltz is a fantastic way of utilizing the entire chicken, as is using the bones for stock. The point is not to waste things that can be used to create more food. After all, who doesn’t like more food? Don’t forget the gribenes, which are crispy chicken or goose cracklings. These are incredible and can be eaten as a snack or used to make chopped liver.

In moderation, fat really isn’t all that bad for us, even though many food companies and diet books have led us to believe it’s the enemy. We just have to remain aware of what we are putting into our bodies, and cooking for yourself is the best way to do that.

Not your average sports bar – Review of BottomzUp


344 Third Avenue
Murray Hill
(646) 918-7220 /


The 3400 square foot space at 344 3rd Ave. opened Thursday and features a menu of eats from around the nation. You can root for your team while pretending you’re at your favorite tailgate spot from New England to Texas. If you prefer, you can tune out the sports theme and order sushi and oysters, something you don’t see in most sports bars. 

Grilled corn lollipop, shrimp, chicken empanada

Grilled corn lollipop, shrimp, chicken empanada

Tabletop speaker at BottomzUp

Tabletop speaker at BottomzUp

Tempura sushi

Tempura sushi

The bar features a sleek design with 45 flat-screen 60” HDTVs, and guests can listen to their game of choice (or music) on tabletop wireless speakers. This is ideal for serious sports fans like my dad, who listens to football while watching hockey. It’s also nice for people who want a little diddy with their oysters. The apathetic folks deserve a Sunday funday, too.

As time goes on, more regionally inspired features will make their way onto the menu. I may have to check in once their Primantis-style sandwich makes an appearance.

Bottomzup Bar & Grill NYC on Urbanspoon

Simplicity that Wows – Review of Giano & Upclose with Chef Matteo Niccoli and Paolo Rossi


126 East 7th. St.
East Village 
212-672-7300 /
CLOSED Mondays


In Janus pose- left-right: Wine Director, Paolo Rossi and Executive Chef, Matteo Niccoli

Five years onward from my first review of then newcomer Giano, and I can still clearly recall the joy in my discovery in the East Village. While there were scores of restaurants that billed themselves as contemporary Italian, even then in 2008, it was immediately clear to me that the level of cuisine and the funky, yet friendly vibe coupled with a compelling combination of a warm playfulness and tasteful casualness that is so distinctly Italian, were qualities that set this place apart. Below is an excerpt from my first review.

Giano presents an accomplished melding of style with culinary substance at utterly affordable prices. O.K. I’ll fess up because there’s no use in attempting to restrain myself, I’m in love with this fabulous East Village newcomer. It’s been two weeks since my first visit, but I find myself still rhapsodizing about the outstanding, inspired dishes, the casual, confident warmth of the place and the sheer all-around “expert-hand” feel of this restaurant. ” Click here for full 2008 review.

One half decade in, and the principles of Giano’s groovy dual-headed namesake, Janus, of remembering the past and looking to the future still guide the restaurant’s tone in menu, but in a manner that reinterprets its original concept in a simpler and more mature fashion: one that honors the present. Whereas the original menu was organized around two main categories: past and future, the current menu encompasses a balance of both, in the form of dishes that are either distinctly traditional or more contemporary, or in the way of revisiting the classics and innovating them with a hint of global flair or unconventional preparation. I learned this during an engaging and spirited conversation with Executive Chef Niccoli and his partner in ownership, Wine Director, Paolo Rossi. The two natives of Milan met in New York through a mutual friend and are the heart and soul of Giano. It became evident early on in our chat that the two not only work synergistically to make Giano a restaurant that delivers a high standard of Italian dining that is refined, innovative and affordable, but  that they’re also having a good deal of fun along the way.

Giano - Niccoli and Rossi in garden

Niccoli and Rossi bantering in the garden at Giano.

Matteo Niccoli, Executive Chef at Giano, NYC

Matteo Niccoli, Executive Chef at Giano, NYC

Born and raised in Milan, Chef Niccoli derailed his plans to pursue architecture studies in order to satisfy his wanderlust at 19. He traveled to London, where he landed his first significant restaurant job at an Italian restaurant at the Michelin-starred Carluccio. It was a decisively formative experience for him. In addition to hands-on learning, the opportunity also paid for his formal culinary education. Niccoli’s next stop was Vancouver, Canada, where he worked both in a cafeteria and in a furniture restoration shop–an experience that would benefit him years later when he and Rossi (formerly a structural engineer) played key roles in designing and building many of the fixtures in Giano, including pitching in to build their dramatically beautiful bar made of Sicilian sea salt coated with resin. In the early nineties, Niccoli moved to New York City and worked in numerous restaurants, including the East Village’s Cacio e Pepe, before embarking on his restaurateuring venture with Rossi. While the Milanese duo originally conceived of the restaurant to champion avant-garde style Italian cuisine and traditional Italian dishes, they quickly learned that their clientele found a strict division between the two categories confusing and intimidating, Niccoli and Rossi responded accordingly by simplifying their menu in a manner that presented masterfully done crowd-pleasing dishes, dishes that as Rossi put it, might be found in ten out of twenty Italian restaurants, but that would elicit an unadulterated “wow-effect” and create a need for more such pleasure. In agreement to present a menu that would not be partial to any one Italian region, but would draw on the strengths of many of them from North to South, Niccoli’s mission became dual one, a) to present simple, traditional dishes that soar above the rest for flavor and execution, and would  and b) to allow for elasticity within the menu for him to play and innovate with technique, ingredients and melding the old with the new, with taste being the number one criterion.

Niccoli draws inspiration from the seasons, his mood and his gastronomic curiosity. He enjoys eating omnivorously and exploring other cuisines as well as other chef’s creations. “Sometimes they can influence me or  spark my own creativity. I don’t need to reproduce the dish. I may not even want to, but something about it can inspire me.”

Niccoli’s culinary philosophy: “In constructing a strong menu, every dish must be excellent. Taste is the main principle, and then I like to combine textures. If I can, I also like to exaggerate sweet and saltiness. The chromatic aspect is also very important to me. Eating a plain dish is not as joyful as having a colorful dish that is aesthetically beautiful. Ultimately, I want people to fall in love with my dishes and I want to please my following.” He also enjoys allowing ingredients to be treated to deliver all of  the textures and sensations that they can.

On how his New York experience has influenced him as a chef: It has posed many challenges and opportunities for him. One of the challenges was that of presenting traditional Italian dishes that found a great deal of resonance among an American and Italian American-audience. In certain instances, Niccoli’s authentic Italian execution of these dishes proved to be at odds with these diners’ expectations and previous experiences of these dishes. The reason for this is the way in which many Italian dishes have migrated to the United States and the American restaurant table. They have evolved to reflect a more American palate or to privilege Southern Italian culinary practices. A clear example of this, Niccoli states, is lasagna. It is a dish that most diners recognize and have experienced, but perhaps not in the way in which it is prepared in Italy. Some are not aware that there are different regional adaptations of lasagna and that there renditions of it that involve bechamel and no red sauce. In the U.S. lasagna tends to be saucier and richer, while Niccoli’s rendition of it adheres to an authentically Italian preparation, which is lighter, compacted and not as saucy. Thus the challenge for Niccoli has been not only to introduce innovative aspects to Italian cuisine, but to also reintroduce traditional Italian dishes in a manner that reflects contemporary Italian cooking. Among the opportunities that this challenge has presented to him is that it allows him to break the rules, to play more and follow his whims. Thus, he’ll occasionally venture to use ingredients that are out of season, but available to him and propose a winter ingredient in summer. The gnocchi with four cheese sauce is a case in point. While presenting this decidedly winter dish would pose something akin to a culinary infraction in Italy, Niccoli offers it all year round at Giano. Why? Because it’s a dish that people love, is always in demand at Giano and because he can. “That’s why I love America!,” he exclaims.

He draws inspiration for such transgressions from the long lines at Big Gay Ice Cream in winter.  If they can eat ice cream in winter, why not take certain liberties with ingredients. He also enjoys the fact that he can veer beyond a purist approach to recipes here and enhance his dishes by incorporating ingredients from all over the globe.

Fun facts:

People he would love to cook for: Uma Thurman,  for whom he jokingly admitted to having a “secret crush” and Giada De Laurentiis because she would really appreciate his food, has a really nice personality, and most importantly is much liked by his young daughter.

When seeking to indulge himself, he looks to Japanese restaurants and ethnic cuisines other than Italian. When not cooking at Giano, he enjoys cooking for his family with ingredients that depart from the cuisine of his métier, such as tofu and quinoa to keep it interesting, healthy and sustainable.

Paolo Rossi, Wine Director and Co-Owner of Giano

Paolo Rossi, Wine Director and Co-Owner of Giano holding up a bottle of a 2010 Bettini Sassello

In addition to sharing a name with Italian soccer legend of the 1980s, who delivered Italy out a a 46 year World Cup victory drought in 1982 by scoring the decisive goals in the final match and achieving national hero status, Rossi’s activities as wine director reveal not only his skill for selecting inspired and at times daring pairings for Chef Niccoli’s creations, but also his talent at being a jovial host and unofficial people reader. He knows just when to interject a suggestion and has a sense for when the guest is seeking encouragement and guidance to exceed the boundaries of their established wine tastes, and when he or she is simply looking for a competent but familiar pairing.   The former industrial engineer came to New York City from Milan in the early 1990s. Always passionate about conviviality, he soon began moonlighting in restaurants here alongside his full-time engineering job. He enjoyed a long stint at Una Pizza Fresca, which is also where he made his critical decision to leave his day job, and commit himself to his wine education and full-time restaurateuring. Naturally outgoing with a cheeky sense of humor and well-matched bohemian flair, it is difficult to imagine Rossi, whose current vocation seems to coincide with his natural habitat, in a corporate day job. He sees his mission as wine director to introduce guests to wines they have never experienced before, and to honor his guests’ price point. In compiling his largely Italian list with select global wines, Rossi has factored in the shifted-down market, and makes it a priority to honor consumers’ price points. In the current economy, this point seems to be at the $30 – $50 bottle, and he carries an extensive list of wines at this point. Sardinian Cannonau ranks highly among his loves.

Fun Facts:

When he wishes to indulge himself, he reaches for anything structured and aged, good Brunellos and Barolos. He loves Amarone, but asserts that it its full enjoyment demands a good meal, as any true Italian would. When he’s not eating, he treats himself to good prosecco. Food-wise his guilty indulgence is pizza. He loves it any-which-way, and considers it a blessing of sorts that he does not work in a pizzeria.

 Highlights among Dishes Sampled during Tastings and Independent Visits:


Giano - Crocchette

Crocchette di Tonno e Ricotta and Polenta e Funghi

Crocchette di tonno e ricotta (tuna and ricotta croquettes) are a delicious play on textures and an appetizing yet unlikely combination of ingredients for Italian cuisine since combining fish and cheese is a violation of a cardinal rule of Italian cooking heeded by chefs and home cooks alike. In this instance, it is a winning combination as the delicate flakes of tuna are harmoniously wedded to the lightness and subtlety of the ricotta and molded into soft orbs, coated in panko and ultimately fried to crisp perfection so that crunch punctuates every bite. Served on a bed of arugula drizzled with balsamic reduction, it delivers one of Niccoli’s signature texture triumphs.

Polenta e funghi (polenta with mushrooms) offers its own interesting juxtaposition of flavors and textures. Crisp strips of polenta prove to be a hearty and texturally rewarding vehicle for the deep, rich aromatic flavors of porcini and champignon.

The pastas:

A note about Giano’s pastas, they are all fresh and produced in house. Although Giano has a full menu and is strong all around, pastas reign supreme here. Coming to Giano and not tasting their pastas would be akin to traveling to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum. 

Giano - Gnocchi ai 4 formaggi

Gnocchi ai quattro formaggi

While I am an equal opportunity lover of expertly prepared pastas, I have never been a huge fan of four cheese gnocchi. Niccoli’s execution of this dish has altered my view by sheer virtue of wowing me. Delightfully tender and light-as-a-cloud gnocchi are coated in a sensuous warm, rich nutty four cheese sauce made of Fontina, Gorgonzola, Parmiggiano Reggiano and Taleggio. These distinct character cheeses conspire together to deliver sheer joy in the way of harmonies spiked with bold assertions, with the gorgonzola delivering with a welcome kick of sharpness.  Plated in a deep large bowl with a stripe of black pepper for dramatic effect, it’s not at all difficult to see why it is one of Giano’s most popular dishes and part of its year round menu.  It is also a perfect example of Niccoli’s taking a quintessentially classic dish that has been done to death and elevating it to a level of superlativeness that is not easily forgotten.

Tonarelli con colatura di alici

Tonnarelli con colatura di alici

The tonnarelli con colatura di alici (tonnarelli with anchovy juice) may sound like a challenging dish to some, myself included, despite the fact that I’m a fan of anchovies, had some reservations about it as in lesser hands there can be the potential risk of excessive saltiness or pasty fishiness. This was not at all the case with this original Chef Niccoli creation. The anchovy sauce served as an intriguingly Mediterranean seasoning to perfectly aldente tonarelli. Panko flakes heightened the texture effects.

Rigatoni con Fave e Pancetta

Rigatoni con Fave e Pancetta

Rigatoni with fava beans and pancetta is an enticing dish that brings together sweetness and saltiness with varying degrees of toothsome textures presented by the pancetta, fava beans and lined rigatoni. Mildly salty shreds of delicate ricotta salata allows all of the ingredients to elegantly cohere.

Giano - Bigoli

Bigoli al ragu’ d’agnello e noci tostate

The Bigoli al ragu’ di’agnello (bigoli with lamb ragu) is one of Niccoli’s newest creations. It draws its inspiration from peasant cooking in Medieval Veneto. Bigoli was a typical pasta noodle during this time in Veneto. It is a dense noodle, about a quarter of an inch thick in diameter, and serves as a base for a rich-stewed like sauce.  In this rendition, Chef Niccoli prepares it with a slow-cooked lamb ragu in a white wine reduction and a generous drizzling of chopped walnuts for added texture. It is a hearty meal that delivers flavor rewards and provides a culinary retreat from a cold winter day. Note when ordering bigoli requires a 24 minute cook time.



Baccala' alla livornese con polenta

Baccala’ alla livornese con polenta

Baccala’ alla livornese with polenta features thick fresh chunks of flaky baccala’ atop cripsy slabs of fried polenta sprinkled with salty capers Kalamata olives and sugary cherry tomatoes and a drizzling of olive oil. Simple yet refined, this tasty dish champions Mediterranean flavors and a fun contrast in textures and colors.


Filetto al balsamico con pancetta e cipolle

Filetto al balsamico con pancetta e cipolle

The filetto al balsamico con pancetta e cipolle (filet mignon with balsamic reduction and pancetta and onions) consists of a generous portion of filet mignon marinated in a bittersweet balsamic sauce. Prepared to preserve a mild char flavor, each bite is seductively tender and rich in flavor. Simple yet creative sides  serve to augment the multiple sensory pleasures of this dish. Braised onions yield their sweetness to the saltiness of crispy pancetta  and an artistic swirl of basil mashed potatoes deliver clean creamy sensations.  This satisfying and exciting dish was favorably paired with a glass of 2010  Tiburzi Santambra Montefalco, a red Umbrian varietal consisting primarily of San Giovese, Sagrantino and Merlot Cabarnet. 



When indulging in dessert, I am not ordinarily one to order the classic tiramisù, but Chef Niccoli’s is fantastic. Nearly weightless in texture, it is deceptively rich in flavor while not being cloying sweet thanks to a perfect balance of mocha and chocolate.

Giano - Coppa al Cappuccino

Coppa al Cappuccino

The Coppa al Cappuccino is a recent Chef Niccoli creation. This tasty dessert consists of cappuccino, whipped ricotta and crushed wafers prepared semifreddo style with cinnamon and is best enjoyed during the warmer  months in Giano’s lovely garden.



Appetizers and salad range well below the $15 range. 

Pastas range start at $13.00 and are well below the $20 mark.

Entrees are comfortably in the $20 zone.

A $21.95 prix fixe is available Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday and includes an appetizer and main course,
5:30-7:00 PM as part of their Happy Hour (1/2 price on select Italian wines by the glass)

Wine: A wide selection of Italian bottles starting in the high 30$ range through $300+.

A sensible by the glass selection of wines are in the $10 range.

In sum, if you want to experience refined, well-executed and unpretentious Italian cuisine in a lively atmosphere that won’t inflict any damage on your wallet– or are simply wondering what kind of place warrants such a long review–then Giano is your place!

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