Balzem Brings Mediterranean Delights and Warm Energy


202 Mott St. in SoHo


The air in Balzem was positive and lively as a few writers gathered for a menu with wine pairings. Wine racks and vintage mirrors lined the walls, and an orange glow filled the room. The warm and intimate space seats 58, with long communal tables and some smaller tables. A few sidewalk tables will be available in June.


Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

pan fried Spanish octopus on arugula

pan-fried Spanish octopus on arugula


A perfect place to pregame at the bar with drinks and snacks, Balzem offers $1 oysters, $5 mezzes/tapas, $6 wines and $5 beers every day but Saturday. Oysters and branzini ceviche aren’t a bad way to impress a date. My favorite appetizer was prosciutto-wrapped burrata on top of green pepper slices.

The food varied from new and fresh to familiar and well-executed. I’ve never seen a branzini ceviche on a menu, and I thought the fish was very fresh and flavorful this way. The grilled ribeye brochette (skewers) were perfectly cooked and hard to put down. They were served with warm flatbread, herb dip and yogurt dip, but the meat was completely delicious on its own.

The only food that felt heavy and rich were two sides: potato truffle gratin and truffle mac & cheese. Of course, they were delicious and shared amongst the table. The rest of the food was light for restaurant food, with simple ingredients executed well. This a great spot if you want a tasty dinner that won’t weigh you down – and there’s plenty of wine to help you along the way.

Balzem on Urbanspoon

French Bistro Serves Up Health-Conscious Fare – Review of Le Village


Le Village
127 E. 7th St.
East Village
(212) 539-0231

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Le Village, Chef Didier Pawlicki’s East Village bistro. Pawlicki, also owner of La Sirene and Taureau, highlights gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan fare here. Seeing any sort of nutrition information on a French bistro menu is a bit of a buzzkill. Luckily, the fat content wasn’t listed. The menu designates items as gluten-free, carb-free, low-carb (less than 25%) and medium-carb (less than 50%).

beet carpaccio resized

Beet Carpaccio at Le Village, NYC

Meat entrees include an angus burger, seared duck breast, and coq au vin, but most of the menu is more veggie-friendly.

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village, NYC

My favorite savory dish was cassoulet with stewed beans, smoked portobello, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and sliced potatoes. It was flavorful and hearty.

Brussels sprouts sauteed with balsamic-glazed strawberries offered a refreshing take on a dish that’s been done a million times. The same is true for the beet carpaccio, delicately sliced beets with wine-soaked raisins, almonds and fresh horseradish.

Overall, each dish offered a new twist on an old classic. Banana brulee was like a fancy version of one of my childhood favorites, complete with a Nilla wafer crust on the bottom. Rather than offering a regular creme brulee, Pawlicki added the banana element since his girlfriend loves bananas. Two vegan desserts are available: a seasonal tart with coconut sorbet and macerated prunes with coconut sorbet. Ice creams are made in house.

Le Village is cozy and casual with some fresh takes on French cuisine. The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage fee, so be sure to a grab a bottle on your way. Le Village accepts only cash and AMEX.

Le Village on Urbanspoon

UES’s New Thai-Inspired Gastropub – Review of Flight


1479 York Avenue at E. 78th Street
Upper East Side


Seafood flight of jumbo crab cake, blue corn crusted calamari and roasted jumbo shrimp

Flight is a new gastropub featuring 16 rotating craft beers, happy hour food, and soon, live jazz.


The chef is inspired by the flavors of Thailand, which he features in dishes like PEI mussels with a wonderfully spicy coconut curry sauce. I could eat that dish with one of a few IPA draft options and be perfectly happy. It paired nicely with Newburgh Double IPA.  

Cheese and charcuterie flights are available, as well as slider flights, seafood flights, or a “barnyard flight” of filet mignon, fried chicken and rack of lamb. Prices are reasonable; 3 cheese and charcuterie options are $15 or 5 for $22. A slider flight with fries is $14. All of these work well with flights of beer, wine or whiskey.  

Beverage director Dermot Kelly brings his Irish heritage to some of the menu (traditional Irish breakfast and homemade brown bread ice cream, anyone?), but it really shines on his beer list. Four 6-ounce pours cost only $12.   Flight replaced longtime neighborhood spot Dresner’s, but Kelly said they see both former Dresner’s regulars and new folks. The light cream chairs and hanging lights give the atmosphere a brightness that most other craft beer-centric restaurants lack. There’s a glass outdoor cafe for warm months. Check it out for good beer and affordable bites.

Flight 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

The comfort and soul of homestyle Italian – Review of Da Marcella Taverna


142 West Houston St.
Greenwich Village
646-559-9192 /

The intimate subterranean space that houses Da Marcella serves to underscore the warmth and conviviality of this traditional Southern European taverna. In fact descending the few small steps that will lead you into this charming, dimly lit restaurant has the effect of entering a magic door–you will suddenly be swooped away from the scene and bustle of  West Houston Street and feel serenaded by the prized traditions of Italian and Spanish hospitality, reflecting the cultural background of tavernero (taverna owner in Spanish), Manuel Moreno.

Moreno was born in Viareggio, Italy (northwestern Tuscany) to an Italian mother and a Spanish father. He moved to Spain with his family as a young boy, and grew up there in admiration of his mother, Marcella’s Italian cooking, but mostly for her generosity of spirit. Marcella contributed to the household income by preparing generous portions of food, which she sold inexpensively, or often donated to neighbors in financial distress. Da Marcella Taverna is Moreno’s tribute to her.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

 With a menu that features numerous “best hits” of Italian cuisine. Thus dishes such as Melanzane alla  Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigiana), Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (an undisputed must here!) and their heavenly polpette al sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce) optimally served in heat-preserving clay terrines, are prevalent on the menu–and justifiably so, given the superior execution of these simple, supremely satisfying dishes, prepared with fresh, quality ingredients. Having grown up with many of these dishes in both by transplanted Southern Italian household and during my extended stays in Italy, I also feel compelled to add that while many of these dishes are seen as humble and perhaps ubiquitous in New York City, successful execution of these is decidedly less so as there is great temptation to cut corners and opt for less expensive ingredient substitutes to boost profit margins. Thus, in such instances, a Bolognese sauce will not have benefited from the many hours of stewing that requires, nor the mixture of meats. Not so at Da Marcella. Its Bolognese  stays as true as possible to mother Marcella’s original recipe and its deeply harmonized flavors can attest to that this is a recipe honed with love and devotion. It must also be noted that Da Marcella’s penchant for the classics does not crowd out more complex entrees on the menu, such as Braised Lamb Shank, roasted Scottish wild salmon and Barolo Braised Short Rib, which prove that Da Marcella is a contender in both genres.  

True to the original concept of the taverna, which was meant to deliver homestyle cooking to neighborhood people , Da Marcella’s menu is not vast, but it offers a refreshingly loyal rendering of the concept of the taverna. What this means is that Da Marcella’s approach is that a deliciously satisfying meal can be had here at prices so affordable that they seem anachronistic for Manhattan–and that’s a great thing! Entree prices range $15-$19. There is a global wine list with by the glass offerings ranging from $7-$12. Fittingly, the mood is welcoming and convivial and thoroughly devoid of  pretense and the staff is both friendly, yet on the ball. My only wish here is that they won’t change a thing!

Besides the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (pictured above), below are some my favorite dishes at Da Marcella:

Grilled Marinate Spanish Octopus with Fresh Caper Berries, Sundried Tomatoes and Arugula

Grilled Marinate Spanish Octopus with Fresh Caper Berries, Sundried Tomatoes and Arugula

I never pass up the opportunity to enjoy an appetizer of grilled pulpo. Da Marcella’s enchantingly tender octopus, expertly grilled with optimal char and smokiness, reminded me why.

 Wild Salmon Avocado Tartare at Da Marcella

With scatterings of chunky, mildly salty Lampedusa capers,  the delicate brininess and the pleasing textures of this salmon tartare make it a refreshing and satisfying appetizer.

Wild Salmon and Avocado Tartare

Burrata Crostone with Prosciutto San Daniele

When first-rate  ingredients conspire with a flair for composition, it is a genuine thing of beauty! That is decidedly the case with this antipasto! The  tender as Carpaccio prosciutto with subtle saltiness highlights the creamy delicate flavors of the burrata–a  light drizzle of truffle oil ties it together elegantly.

Chef Francesco's Meatballs

Chef Francesco’s Meatballs

This picture does not deceive. Prepared in long-stewed tomato sauce, these veal and pork meatballs are exceptional and I dare say that they compare to many a family recipe.


Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with Creamy Polenta

Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with Creamy Polenta

I am generally not attracted to lamb for its pungency and pronounced gaminess, I encountered neither in Da Marcella’s Braised Colorado Lamb Shank. It was off-the-bone tender and exquisitely prepared in a red wine reduction sauce. The creamy polenta was an excellent accompaniment to it.

Ricotta Cheese Cake

Ricotta Cheese Cake

Da Marcella offers a selection of classic Italian desserts including Tiramisu’ and pannacotta, sorbets and gelato affogato. These are all rewarding. However, the crown goes to its Ricotta Cheese Cake! It’s smooth, creamy, not overly sweet and suitable for sharing.

Da Marcella 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

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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