Based in large part on the strong recommendations in a prior thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/412386) my girlfriend and I went to Bar Stuzzichini for dinner Friday night. The experience was truly underwhelming and has me scratching my head (and frankly a tiny bit skeptical) over the glowing reports found in the other thread.
The space is cavernous and oddly styled. The food is very much in the familiar NYC rustic Italian mold, but instead of a warm intimate setting the feel of the place is somewhere between Bull and Bear and TGI Fridays.
Our server was well meaning and attentive but was overly ambitious about steering us towards her personal favorites and basically reinforced the TGI Friday's sentiment. I'm OK with a little direction from my server, but she went too far. That would be more excusable if she hadn't condescendingly treated us as if we were helplessly lost amid an ever so exotic menu. She did this in pretty much the nicest way possible but it was nonetheless aggravating. This is New York City, the food at your restaurant is not so unusual, and you have to assume patrons have some level of knowledge of what's being served. The real problem here is that, despite attempts to appear otherwise, she clearly had limited experience with sophisticated food and was working on an assumption that whatever she had learned in her training was beyond anything her diners would know.
Oh, and she annoyingly repeated back to us the Italian name for everything we ordered.
Me: "We'll have the grilled octopus:
Her: "The Polpo"
Me: "The Prawn"
She did this for every single item. Grrrrr.
I am no wine geek, but I do appreciate a good bottle and don't appreciate when wine is served in inadequate stemware. Stuzzichini uses the new fangled wine glasses that are sans stem and with low quality thick rims. Half point deduction.
Onto the food, most everything was at least decent, but nothing was particularly good. We started with the Misti -- our choice of any five antipasti for $22. A great sounding deal that is in fact a pretty good, but (given the bite sized portions) not so terrific bargain. We had the prawn (simple but good), grilled octopus with thinly sliced celery (octopus had good soft texture but no char, celery worked well), zucchini (very uninspired), fried artichoke (big let down, outer leaves were dried out while interior was mush, under seasoned), and the buffalo mozzarella (good but I'm not giving much credit for serving a ball of mozzarella).
For our second course we split the spaghetti with squid and cherry tomatoes. A good but not particularly impressive past dish that was much too small a portion. We each got about five bites worth. Honestly, we struggled to find a pasta we were excited about after crossing of the Rigatoni with Ragu (the GF doesn't eat veal). This dish was fine but didn't do anything to turn around our impressions after the lackluster antipasti course.
For our main we split the crispy lemon chicken. Again, we couldn't really find anything we were too excited about among the secondi so, encouraged by some of the comments in the earlier thread I referenced, we opted for the chicken. The dish was a half de-boned bird, nicely crisp with juicy flesh, and the right amount of lemony bite. It was tasty, but hardly elevated chicken above mundane. At $18 for half of a small bird with absolutely no accompaniments or garnish, this was a poor value.
For desert, I had the olive oil cake and she passed. The cake was pretty much in line with everything else we had.