Iacopo Falai may have taken a savory turn as the former chef at Bread Tribeca, but his heart belongs to pastry. The onetime Le Cirque pastry chef returns to his confectionery roots this week at Falai, a sleek new Lower East Side Italian restaurant where everything, he says, will be “fatto in casa,” or made in-house—including bread, chocolate, and pastas like green-pea pappardelle. Given the chef-owner’s background in both sweets and savory, you’d expect the twain to meet, and, as the cocoa beans in the roast-pork dish suggest, they occasionally do. But desserts are his rightful domain, and the menu divides them between “classici” (cannoli, zeppole) and “non-classici” (panna cotta with asparagus foam and balsamic vinaigrette). Falai’s recruited a sommelier from Florence’s famed Enoteca Pinchiorri to oversee the all-Italian list, featuring—surprise, surprise—ten dessert wines by the glass.—R.R.
68 Clinton St., nr. Rivington St.; 212-253-1960
Amy Scherber was an artisanal-bread pioneer when she opened her first homespun bakery in Hell’s Kitchen thirteen years ago. Since then, she’s expanded to Chelsea Market and—for a three-year run—to the carbophobic Upper East Side. Her newest branch joins Greenwich Village’s unofficial gourmet food court, that strip of Bleecker recently occupied by an expanded Murray’s Cheese and a glittering Wild Edibles fish market. To that small-town shopper’s paradise Scherber contributes her signature semolina with golden raisins and fennel, her black-olive fougasse, her German chocolate layer cake, and a mouthwatering roster of sandwiches and (if you can’t beat ’em . . .) salads.
250 Bleecker St., at Leroy St.; 212-675-7802
Italian restaurants aren’t exactly scarce on the Upper East Side, but Spigolo, which means “corner,” has at least one thing going for it. Make that two—husband-and-wife chefs who both worked at Union Square Cafe. Scott Fratangelo’s menu is full of small flourishes, like bagna cauda butter on baked littleneck clams, and crowd-pleasers like Italian egg toast parmigiana for brunch. Pastry chef Heather Fratangelo favors desserts with an Italian flavor (caramel affogato with bombolini) and a comfort-food flair (warm gingerbread pudding with candied kumquats).
1561 Second Ave., at 81st St.; 212-744-1100
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar
The East Village has its Dumpling Man, and now the Flatiron district has its dumpling lady: Anita Lo, chef-partner at Annisa, ventures into the quick-service world of stuffed dough wrappers at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, a gourmet variation on a Chinatown theme. Lo’s five versions, including Peking duck and wasabi shrimp, are each paired with a different dipping sauce and are available fried or steamed, with salad or in noodle soup. Green-tea milkshakes and chocolate soup dumplings round out the streamlined menu.
61 W. 23rd St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-924-9220
In what might be the most exciting East Coast–West Coast collaboration since Dr. Dre hooked up with KRS One, Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton (of L.A.’s La Brea Bakery and Campanile fame) will open Mozza Bar this summer in Los Angeles, with plans to spin it off in New York. Reached in flight, en route to a bachelor party in Bangkok—who says celebrity chefs don’t know how to party anymore?—Batali explained that the concept has absolutely nothing to do with Passover food, but rather is “kind of like ’ino meets classic Roman antipasto bar all under one roof.” That means panini, salumi (courtesy of Batali’s dad, Armandino), and some 30 daily variations on the mozzarella theme. “We’ll have fresh bufala from Naples, fior di latte from Rome, five kinds of fresh mozzarella from southern and central Italy, and we’ll make our own,” says the lactose-loving chef. “Plus we’ll probably have a ‘goatzarella’ and a ‘sheepzarella,’ depending on how many milks we can get.” Just don’t expect any Polly-O.
And Speaking of Cheese . . .
Murray’s launches its classroom series February 17, beginning with a beer-and-cheese-pairing class conducted by Murray’s maître fromager, Tom VanVoorhes, and Garret Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster. Upcoming topics: Spanish, French, and American cheese; Raw-Milk vs. Pasteurized; the ever-popular Chutneys, Fruit Pastes, and Mostardas; and everything you ever wanted to know about “Weird Cheese” (but, presumably, were afraid to ask). Nothing scheduled yet on sheepzarella. (254 Bleecker St., nr. Leroy St.; call 212-243-0991 or murrayscheese.com.)
Why I Like Monday
In case you haven’t made your obligatory aphrodisiac-charged Valentine’s Day reservations—and don’t even think about ordering in from Burritoville—Tía Pol, the excellent Chelsea tapas bar and restaurant, can help. To celebrate the fact that, beginning on the 14th, the staff will give up their usual Monday off to make the world a better place for tapas lovers, chef Alex Raij is cooking up specials like seared foie gras with violet marmalade, suckling pig with rose-petal-infused honey, and fried dates with sweet cream and orange-blossom cinnamon. Toast your valentine (and your good fortune) with a complimentary glass of cava. (205 Tenth Ave., nr. 23rd St.; 212-675-8805.)
He Knows When to Fold ’Em
That Super Size Me guy has nothing on Ed “Slice Me” Levine. For his new pizza opus, Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, the food writer stumped around the country (and well beyond) for a year, gulping down an estimated 1,000 slices, three a day on average, all in the name of research. That’s not to say that Levine—who’s tackled such weighty subjects as pastrami sandwiches, heroes (hot, then cold), and hamburgers (from high to low)—lacked prior experience. In fact, for all we know, 1,000 slices might fall short of his personal record. In Pizza, he covers nearly every worthy contender anyone has ever heard of, from Naples to New Hyde Park, paying special attention to the “Pizza Belt” (Philadelphia to Boston), giving hope to forlorn travelers touching down in such presumably mozzarella-forsaken outposts as Memphis and Omaha, and evaluating strengths and weaknesses on a four-pie scale. What comes as a surprise: Naples leaves Levine if not exactly cold, at least underwhelmed. What doesn’t: New York, owing to its great pizza diversity—and newcomers like Franny’s and Una Pizza Napoletana—is unquestionably the pizza capital of the world. Still, one man can eat only so much pie, so Levine relies on the palates and prose of pizza-obsessed friends like Jeffrey Steingarten (whose archetypical pie resides in Phoenix) and Mario Batali (who reveals the soul-tormenting tribulations a celebrity chef faces when opening a Manhattan pizzeria). Interspersed are chapters on history, legends, and lore, all adding up to an entertaining, appetizing celebration of what Levine calls the “ultimate populist, minimalist food.”