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Charlie Bird  

Steak Trumps Bolognese

My portly pasta-loving friends still dutifully devour the mountainous noodle dishes featured at the nouveaux red-sauce joints that are all the rage in Italian-dining circles these days. Lately, however, the dishes they can’t stop talking about are the old-fashioned rustico-protein specialties, like bowls of tripe gently simmered in fresh tomato sauce, heaping platters of Tuscan rib chops, and classic veal Parmesan, served in great saucers under mattresses of melted cheese.

At the center of this Italian meathead movement, in midtown, is Michael Stillman’s new steakhouse on 57th Street, Quality Italian, where the menu features a startlingly tender, bone-in Tomahawk rib chop for the expense-account price of $42 and a delicious flap of veal Parmesan for two that is so large the waiters dole it out in generous slices, like a giant pizza. There’s also a very fine Gulliver-size veal Parm on the menu at Carbone, down in the Village, although, in my opinion, the one dish that manages to live up to the hype at this madly overhyped, overpriced, faux-red-sauce establishment is the excellent “mixed grill cacciatore” for two, which is hoisted to the table on a butcher board the size of a manhole cover and contains sausages, chops, and other assorted specialties.

I’m not a big fan of the way the talented chef Michael White has put together his helter-skelter global restaurant empire, but if you have the urge for a protein fix while wandering the boutiques of Soho, you could do much worse than the generously sized (and, at $61 per person, steeply priced) “Fiorentina” porterhouse for two, which the chefs at White’s new Italian-themed steakhouse, Costata, scatter with frizzled sprigs of rosemary and bulbs of roasted garlic.

I like to order the excellent pastas whenever I visit the elegant garden dining room at Piora, on Hudson Street in the West Village, but whenever I’m in the mood for a proper feast, I’ll call for the off-the-menu côte de boeuf, which was dressed, last I dropped in, with an elaborate New Age hollandaise sauce flavored with rosemary and maple. The great canoe-size marrow bone is the dish my friends get whenever they visit Harold Dieterle’s slightly muddled new Italio-German mash-up restaurant, The Marrow, in the West Village, and if you’re in the market for a superior piece of beef in the East Village, you won’t do better than the classic Red Angus tagliata di manzo, which the former uptown chef Roberto Deiaco cuts in tender, juicy slices and finishes with more generous spoonfuls of bone marrow at East 12th Osteria on First Avenue.

For the ultimate in beefy, sophisticated Italian cooking, I direct you to the sleek, matchbook-size new Soho restaurant Charlie Bird, which has been more or less mobbed with revelers ever since it opened, early last summer, in a tiny, pie-shaped space off Sixth Avenue on King Street. All of the rustic specialties on the former San Francisco chef Ryan Hardy’s unpretentious, user-friendly menu are worth the trip, but the dishes that work best are the old fresser classics, like the fat, milk-fed veal chop, garnished with wedges of lemon; the smooth, almost silky “Lovely Style” tripe, served on slices of thick peasant toast; and the large-plate dry-aged beef rib eye, which you can wash down with co-owner Robert Bohr’s expertly chosen Rhônes, red Burgundies, and Brunellos, all of which are available, if you’re in a parsimonious mood, by the half-bottle.


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