9. All the Good Italian Joints Are Downtown (and Tiny).
Grandiose uptown dining halls used to be the fashion in the ceaselessly popular realm of Italian restaurants, but with the success of closet-size establishments like Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, on Mulberry Street, more and more of the city’s trendy pasta joints seem to be popping up downtown, in smaller and smaller spaces. If you don’t believe me, try getting a table at Gabriel Stulman’s tiny new Village Italian joint Perla, where the garage-size room is jammed, most evenings, with raucous groups of party girls grazing on rustic, peasant delicacies like agnolotti stuffed with roasted beef cheek and slabs of crostini spread with honey and ricotta. There are plenty of pastas to choose from on Stulman’s characteristically bountiful, overstuffed menu, but the real specialty of the house is the world-class bone-in rib eye for two, which the great nose-to-tail cook Michael Toscano chars in his wood-burning oven, and piles, for extra fatso pleasure, with a mountain of borlotti, corona, and cannellini beans splashed with spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar and fat drippings.
The unobtrusive, underrated new Soho restaurant Angolo Soho offers similarly hefty carnivorous specialties (blood sausage, a spicy double-cut pork chop) on its surprisingly accomplished menu, but the establishment’s best dish, to my mind, is the simple fettuccine alla carbonara, which the former Dell'Anima chef Michael Berardino crowns in classic Roman style, with salty nuggets of pancetta and a single, vividly orange, raw egg yolk. There’s something for everyone at Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale’s latest downtown collaboration, L'Apicio, including numerous artfully composed salads for light eaters, fifteen varieties of pastas and polentas for carb-loving Italian traditionalists, and a delicately gingery, multitiered vanilla semifreddo for those with sweet tooths that tastes like something you’d find during holiday season in one of the more respectable restaurants around old Firenze. But no downtown operation packs more range, variety, and essential Italian goodness into one relatively small space these days than the painstakingly rusticated market-and-restaurant Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. The dining counters and cramped little communal tables of the wildly popular Il Buco spinoff on Great Jones Street tend to be packed at dinnertime with legions of uptown pasta scholars and clamorous local chowhounds. But at lunch, many of chef Justin Smillie’s grandiose meat dishes (slow-roasted short ribs, golden slabs of porchetta) are served in slightly more manageable (and modestly priced) sandwich form, and it’s possible to sample the impeccably seared polpo à la plancha, and bowl after bowl of faithfully rendered pasta classics—the Sicilian-style swordfish calamaretti; the buttery, peppery bucatini cacio e pepe—without getting elbowed, New York style, in the nose.