A staple in the West Village since the 1970’s, “Pasticceria Rocco” has been passing down old-world traditions into their baked goods for decades before that. This family-owned Italian bakery/ cafe still fills cannolis with their sweet ricotta cream per order, and outputs hundreds of cookies and cakes on a daily basis. Admittedly, I had not set foot into this place in a long time for no better reason than I was getting high and mighty on all of the other more trendy places in the area. It’s a rough area to be an old school Italian bakery in.
I did manage to walk into the place, and had planned on doing a review of some multi-colored biscotti that sat by the front counter, but then something else caught my eye.
Suspended in mid-air by a cooling rack was a long tray of freshly-made focaccia bread, glowing like a lighthouse in the dark. Don’t fret, trusty reader, I still bought those biscotti, but this review just turned into a focaccia story.
TV chefs Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali joined forces with the help of financier Oscar Farinetti to open “Eataly”. Resembling a traditional Italian market in appearance, every food item for sale is either imported from Italy or made on location using purely Italian ingredients, with the only exception the NY water used to boil the pasta.
The impressively-stocked store hosts a range of places to eat, whether you want a quick nibble or to sit down for a three-course dinner. While there are plenty of edible options there ranging from pizza to meat & cheese platters to full-course meals, I dropped by on my first visit to grab a sandwich. While there were many beautiful-looking options to try, I went with the simplest of the bunch, a baguette with prosciutto di parma. Italian food is all about celebrating simplicity and freshness, so if “Eataly” can turn something as basic as this into something amazing, you know we are in good hands.
Every Spring in General Worth Square on Madison Avenue and 23rd street, “Mad. Sq. Eats” pops up, offering locals and lucky tourists a little taste of some great restaurants from all around the five boroughs. The selection is mind-boggling, with Mexican empanadas next to Korean taco joints, Asian fusion cuisine sitting across from traditional Italian specialties. “Mad. Sq. Eats” is definitely an event not to miss, and I attacked the park on it’s second day of business, shoving through the throngs of foodies to get my fill of this edible haven in the middle of a busy city.
There will not be as many photos in this review as I would have liked since I was there shooting a video (which you can see after the jump), but here is the rundown of some of what I ate (keyword is some as there will be a few supplemental reviews of items that I brought home).
Formerly an antique store on the edge of SoHo, “Ciccio Bar & Alimentari” gutted this tiny basement and redecorated it to open a brand spanking new Italian food & wine bar. SoHo is already full of amazing places to eat, let alone an abundance of Italian restaurants. Moving into this turf is risky business (pun intended), but it seems that “Ciccio” is up for the challenge.
A very small restaurant tucked away on a busy street, it’s a surprising retreat from the very noisy city traffic above-ground. You would barely know there was a subway and a major roadway if not for the view of them from the large windows by the front-end. This is chef Giacomo Romano’s first solo-venture, but all signs point to what could be a good beginning to having a new home in SoHo.
Practically a hole in the wall, “Meatball Obsession” has a tiny nook between some large office buildings along fifth avenue. The snackbar is purely a storefront, no seating since there is no inside – it’s just a counter and the sidewalk. Owner Daniel Mancini opened the place out of nostalgia for his grandmother, who used to cook Sunday dinner for the family and would give him a meatball in a cup with some bread to soak up the sauce. Passing down the tradition since 2008 to New Yorker’s getting off the 14th St. F-Stop train, it was time for me to taste some of Nonni’s old-country cooking and see how this meatball stacked up.
“Olive’s” in Soho has been impressing foodies since it opened in 1992, and continues to see lines out the door during the local lunch rush. Named after the owner’s Portugese water dog, their selection of freshly made sandwiches and salads keeps people coming back for more once they have had their first bite.
Even though there are not a ton of sandwiches to choose from, eight in most cases, I had a tough time deciding which one to try. It all became clear when I noticed what seemed to be the most popular sandwich, the “Olive’s Hero”. Why is it such a fan-favorite? It could be because it’s just that damn good.
I was ecstatic to see a truck serving pizza parked nearby my office, and jumped right in line to grab myself a pie. “Eddie’s Pizza Truck” is an off-shoot of “Eddie’s Pizza” restaurant in New Hyde Park, which is the home of the “bar-pie”. What a bar-pie is, I still can not tell you, but if it’s what I ate, I would rather not know.
If you can not tell by the absolutely stupid title of this post and the extremely negative-sounding third sentence, I was not too keen on “Eddie’s Pizza Truck”, and for good reason. What looked like a promising slice of awesome quickly turned into a nightmare topped with cheese.
“Alidoro” is notorious for many things. The first thing this tiny Italian sandwich joint is known for is their long line, typically one that is out the door whenever I pass by at lunch time. I lucked out on the day I decided to walk in, as I had just missed the big lunch rush. I also lucked out as this place runs out of food quick, and that does not bode well for a rumbling tummy.
With around 40 sandwiches that you could have, the menu is daunting at first glance. The list of things you can not have is equally scary, which commands you not to order things such as mayo, ketchup, tomato sauce, lettuce, pickles, utensils, and other no-no’s that would make The Soup Nazi smile. Aside from their reputation of awesome sandwiches, I heard they can be ferocious to customers who dared to ask for things on that banned list, even kicking people out for their insolence!
Having browsed the menu of what I could have outside (convenient for the folks stuck waiting on line when it is out the door), I wasted no time in ordering a “Matthew” sandwich. How could I resist a sandwich named after me? The answer is – I could not, nor will I ever.
If I did my math correctly, which I typically don’t thanks to my public school education, Soho’s “Mezzo Giornio” is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, a momentous hallmark for a restaurant in NYC. Passing by the place on the corner of Spring St., I glanced over their menu and found some intriguing items that I had to try – specifically their pasta with wild boar (seen above). Thankfully, the restaurant has a great prix-fixe menu for $20 (not including tip) that offers up a healthy taste of their soup and pasta. With a price like that, who could say no? Well, I guess people who can’t eat gluten, but aside from them, who could say no (and much like a hipster, they are barely human anyway, so what do they matter)?
“Mezzo Giornio” wastes no time, bringing out a curtain opener of briny, meaty-tasting olives in different sizes and colors, along with some crusty bread and crunchy breadsticks. It was hard not to resist the lure of carbs, but I was on good behavior and held off, instead tearing through the earthen-colored olives like a lawnmower cuts through grass. Besides, I had a date with a bowl of pasta, and I wanted to give her my undivided attention.