My wife nibbled her way happily through her meal at Falai, chatting with our dining companion and admiring the outdoor garden space where tables are set up in the spring and summer. At a table nearby, the fashionable Italians squinted at each other through their square, black-rimmed spectacles, and when someone there was presented with a birthday cake, their eyes all lit up. My wife reacted in a similar way when the first of Iacopo Falai’s desserts arrived. It was a well-cooked, cloudy-topped passion-fruit soufflé, and it was followed by a small, spongy baba cake poured with dark rum, and a row of cherry-size profiteroles drizzled with chocolate sauce and delicately flecked with bits of citrus. The former Le Cirque pastry chef also produces a very good tart made from polenta, with a green-tomato compote on the side, and a soupy, creamy version of panna cotta sprinkled with decorative slices of dried strawberries. As I spooned it up, my wife observed that the strawberries looked like rose petals. “Honey,” I replied, without hesitation, “I believe you’re right.”
Address: 68 Clinton St. ,nr. Rivington St.; 212-253-1960
Hours: Dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday; 6 to 11 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $8 to $13; pastas, $14 to $19; entrées, $17 to $25.
Ideal Meal: Polenta bianca with chicken livers, ricotta gnudi, honey-glazed duck, passion-fruit soufflé.
Scratchpad: This is a classic one-star neighborhood restaurant in size and, arguably, even in price. But Clinton Street is a culinary destination these days, and the polished cooking and atmosphere bump a dinner at Falai up to two stars.