A rustic heft and a pop of creative ego flavor the Sicilian cooking of Salvatore Fraterrigo, the new resident chef at Agata & Valentina. The handsome space looks tiny, but it weaves into cozy alcoves on two floors. The chef’s splendid caponata sits alongside chickpea fritters and a pair of crostini—goat cheese and green olive. His cannoli shed their traditional tube of crackling pastry, the sweetened ricotta emerging in a layered column instead. Salvatore comes to the table beaming. He is especially proud of the timballetto— a bowl made of pasta filled with savory anelletti rings, my favorite dish tonight. I know Fraterrigo from his restaurant in Trapani, south of Palermo. To be frank, I might wish for more finesse. The rolled eggplant and the ravioli alla Norma are both buried in too much dense tomato sauce. Pancetta-wrapped shrimp swim in a fava bean swamp, a tasty purée but overwhelming. Better is the busiate pasta with seafood and pesto the Trapanese way: basil, almond, and garlic. Parmigiano-Reggiano is not native to Sicily: Instead, pastas get a last-minute blizzard of toasted bread crumbs, as here on bucatini with sardines. Our guests seem happy enough with red snapper on lemon risotto and pan-roasted branzino with escarole, pine nuts, and raisins. Good grub, not inexpensive but almost reasonable, soul food for the Italian families at tables around us.
Agata & Valentina Ristorante
1513 First Ave., at 79th St.; 212-452-0691
For more details, including the menu, reader reviews, and hours, click here.