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Little Italys

True Italian warmth -- plus great pizzas and pastas -- is turning up in some very out-of-the-way places.


Treasure Hunt: Giorgione, on the far western edge of Soho.  

For all of you—and there are such a lot of you—who believe half the fun of going out is indulging in the hunt for the obscure address, you must be feeling frustrated, getting rusty, maybe even in danger of turning into a dreaded Chambers Hotel–lobby regular. After all, nocturnal sojourns aren’t the challenge they used to be when clubs like Buttermilk Bottom were hidden away in abandoned banks on Rector Street, “outlaw” parties suddenly appeared on a platform midspan across the Manhattan Bridge, and blood sausage at Florent no doubt tasted defiantly right because one had first navigated the hanging carcasses and tallow-filled gutters of Gansevoort Street. Now a Scoop—a Scoop!—is opening up next door to Hogs & Heifers off 14th Street. Centro-Fly is on the well-trod corridor of 21st, west of Fifth. Rough. Jimmy’s Bronx Café not only went Uptown but has come Downtown. It’s enough to make you order in.

Don’t. Put down that remote and head off to the remote, toward a new Grail sure to rekindle that desire to search and enjoy. Lord knows what John LaFemina and Frank DeCarlo were thinking when they came upon a gutted storefront on Eldridge Street across from a housing project. True, when DeCarlo and LaFemina opened Peasant almost three years ago, it wasn’t as if taking a trip to Elizabeth Street was worth putting on your Sunday clothes for, but the restaurant was never the sole outpost of commerce and civility there.

But that’s just how they’ve positioned Àpizz. Take a cue from the fact that the restaurant has no windows. Drop Mom off, don’t meet your date out front, and remember traffic runs north up Eldridge. Let the door hit you on the way in. (For the record, no harm ever came to pass in four visits, and I won’t hesitate to come again.)

Happily, once inside, you won’t be in any rush to leave. Àpizz’s rustic and ingratiating heartbeat depends on a handsome twelve-foot-long brick oven (also a feature at Peasant), in which the temperature rises to nearly 800 degrees, and all cooking is done on the poured-sandstone surface heated by these flames. If you have even the slightest touch of the pyro in you, you’ll find the view as compelling as Donald Trump finds the Victoria’s Secret show.

The fare is even tastier. Pizzas, naturally, are a specialty, but enticing as the six-slice rectangles are—especially with tart anchovies or sweet sausage—they are the least adventurous choices. For while the dishes at Àpizz don’t have the jagged bravura of DeCarlo’s cooking at Peasant, they manage the neat trick of being both homey and slightly unexpected. This is partially due to oven-roasting, which imparts a richer, smokier flavor to a meaty, herb-stuffed artichoke, and which finishes calamari with a slight, appealing crackle.

Àpizz’s lasagna is ravenously good because the layers of ricotta, Parmesan, and pasta are subject to a lush ragu of wild boar. To the ceaseless chagrin of my grandmother’s spirit, I rarely leave restaurants with brown bags of leftovers. However, the remaining lasagna was polished off the next morning. You can have your egg-white omelette or met-Rx bar; I’ve found my new power breakfast. Also in the bag was one open raviolo filled with fragrant basil and ricotta in a brown-butter-and-Parmigiana sauce as satisfying as it is simple, one of two bocce-ready meatballs—somewhat arrogantly served without pasta, redolent of ricotta and sauced in a spunky tomato gravy—and finally, some of the mashed sweet potatoes that accompanied the oven-roasted pork chops. Though the chops were a bit thin (better to have been a single thick one), the flavor was so wonderfully peppery they were long gone.

The kitchen also offers equally hearty oven-baked eggplant, an herb-roasted chicken that would match the above dishes if the breast were out of the oven a bit sooner, and a simple, clean, bone-pickable whole fish of the day with a balsamic-sprinkled tomato salad. Only skate, a little soggy in white wine and lemon, and skirt steak—which might benefit from marinating or some garlic—don’t quite match up.

All of Àpizz’s desserts are made on sweet pizza dough, seductive enough to nibble plain but when filled with baked-apple crumble, lemon-almond custard, or custard with strawberries and kiwi, worth fork-fencing for, and served with gelato from Il Laboratorio. Careful: They run out of vanilla fast.

If you didn’t come by car, when it’s time to reluctantly leave, you may be too full to run out of Àpizz fast. But don’t dally outside with good-byes. Cabs are easy to find around the corner on Allen Street.

It’s not exactly in the heart of Times Square, either, but at least Giorgione is on a desolate street that people have already discovered. The Ear Inn, Theo, and a few bars are nearby. There are usually at least a few youthful drunks getting some air, waving hello. And once you walk into the sparkling, nearly all-white restaurant, you are anything but alone. The crowd is a boisterous bunch: a disjointed but congenial mix of those who walked from home, those who circled the place for twenty minutes until they figured out which way the streets went, and those who remember the good old delectable days when owner Giorgio DeLuca first helped create the groundbreaking Dean & DeLuca. The food, while deliberately direct, uncomplicated, and fresh, is rarely enough to calm them down. The minestrone, however, was thick and vibrant enough to divert our attention, as were the roasted peppers with silken mozzarella, beautifully cut prosciutto, Parmesan-drenched eggplant Parmesan, tagliatelle in a smoky meat sauce, and linguini with lots of clams and so much—but never too much—garlic.

The pizzas are solid, with great salty crusts; the risotto is naturally best with white truffles. The squab is as delicious as the veal chop is painfully fatty. The steak is simple, the perch a bit salty but with a lovely sauce with chunky artichokes. Only the desserts will bring you down. The prices, however, will put a spring in your step. And that counts, because you’re not going to find a free cab on this block anytime soon, either.

Dinner, Monday through Saturday 5 to 11 p.m. Appetizers $7 to $12; entrées $16 to $22. All major credit cards.

Lunch, Monday through Friday, noon to 2:45 p.m. Dinner, Sunday through Thursday 6 to midnight; Friday and Saturday to 1 a.m. Appetizers $8 to $12; entrées $12 to $27. All major credit cards.


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