The Italian Small-Plates Invasion
Forget about overstuffed gnudi, raw-fish crudi, and those giant, formally fashionable portions of rustically charred bistecca Fiorentina for two. Among cutting-edge Italian gastronomes, the rage right now are stuzzichini, or spuntini, or any kind of miniature, reasonably priced delicacy compact enough to fit on a tiny plate. I’m thinking of Keith McNally’s clamorous, slightly confused new Italian brasserie, Morandi, where the most accomplished dishes tend to be the little ones, like plates of golden, crisp fritto misto, and modest helpings of frizzled artichokes served with the stalks still intact, just like they do in Rome. Whenever I’m ambling down Eighth Avenue in the West Village, I like to duck into the raffish new bar-restaurant dell’anima for a stack of the crunchy house bruschette before proceeding to Centro Vinoteca, where my wife enjoys picking her way methodically through the seventeen “piccolini” items (she recommends the truffled eggs, the eggplant fritters, and the arancine rice balls) while I bolt down Anne Burrell’s crispy-edged gnocchi and bowls of the butter-soaked raviolo al’uovo, each of which contains a single gently poached egg.
Lunchtime is still the best time to dine at the great Bastianich outpost Lupa on strips of eighteen-month-old gran riserva prosciutto di Parma, followed by a dainty forkful or two of the classic oxtail coda alla vaccinara. But whenever I find myself trapped farther uptown, in that restaurant wasteland above Bloomingdale’s, I do what my stately Upper East Side mother does and drop in to Accademia di Vino on Third Avenue, where the tables are filled with famished shoppers gorging on bowls of freshly made spaghetti carbonara, slices of grilled lamb, and plum-size Parmesan fritters specked with nuggets of prosciutto. From there, the small-plate parade returns downtown to Bar Stuzzichini on Broadway, where you’ll find not one but two commodious bars filled with a motley collection of business lunchers, small-plates fanatics, and dazed-looking tourists on their way to Union Square. Begin your tidy little meal with that weirdly delicious Neapolitan specialty scamorza alla brace (toasted smoked mozzarella drizzled with chile-infused olive oil), proceed to the candy-size rolls of eggplant stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese, then reach a final, grand crescendo with a helping of chewy, pistachio-filled tagliolini al limone, perhaps, or the melting gnocchi all’amatriciana, composed of handmade gnocchi and smothered in a deeply flavored ragù of tomatoes, onions, and guanciale.