I'm still catching up on some obvious restaurants that opened during the crush of running this site when I was mostly eating cereal. For example, I finally got to Trattoria Zero Otto Nove for the first time today, even though I was one of the first regulars at the owner's original place, Roberto's.
Lunch started, naturally, with peasant bread and olive oil. I've eaten a lot of peasant bread and olive oil over the years. It's become a cliche; they serve this in, like, Wichita now. So I'm not easily impressed. But I went absolutely Cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs at this stuff. If the food hadn't come, I'd have polished off the whole basket in about five mins flat. The waiter, obviously Italy-born, had to admit it was as good as the best he's had in Italy. They get it from Madonia Brothers Bakery, across the street (which has been there long enough for me to be ashamed at missing it). The olive oil I didn't figure out. Anyone know which brand they serve?
For the actual meal, I stuck mostly to hound faves:
Pizza La Riccardo, topped w/pancetta, smoked mozzarella, pureed butternut squash, and basil, was very tasty, but the crust went totally soggy in three minutes, and it was kind of unpleasant (I felt like I was eating leftover pizza from a fridge). Even at its peak, I'm not sure I liked this pizza better than the ones at Company on Ninth ave. Which is not to say I was sad or disappointed.
Note: I was animatedly talking the whole time (it was lunch with an old friend), so I don't have very incisive or specific notes.
Mafalde e Ceci was fusille w/chickpeas and bits of crispy pancetta, tossed w/breadcrumbs and pecorino. This dish is a real soul-food of impoverishment, but was cooked and served with great flair and refinement, which drives me a little crazy. I'm not a fan of chi-chi versions soul food, but this was undeniably enjoyable. I definitely liked the hot starch-on-starch (on starch) action.
Polpettine, Polenta & Caprino (small meat balls, spicy tomato sauce, polenta & goat cheese): the meatballs were everything I don't prefer: small, dryish, and slightly rubbery. But they were best-of-type small dryish slightly rubbery meatballs. Polenta had enough fat in it to win over anyone. Tomato sauce again was a soulful conception but done with a certain refinement. And, again, I find refined peasant food disorienting. Yet, again, I did not hesitate to clean the plate with more of that great bread. So if I'm complaining, it's only meekly.
Pollo Scarpariello was on the bone (thank you, jesus) but it was the gloppy sort, with thick sauce. Not my favorite. But the chef won the round via a surprisingly free hand with the vinegar, which really brought it to life and cut through the glop. Some hot pepper would have melded nicely with that vinegar (I've had hot scarpariellos before), but that wasn't the route he chose. The chicken itself was consummately tender and flavorful.
The tab was $60 for two (with one glass of red wine). Not a cheap lunch, but not crazy expensive, either.
But you know what? Nothing could touch that bread and olive oil. Because that's REAL peasant bread. Not shiny, not spotlit, not reaching.
I went across the street to buy more bread, and also tried a cannoli (alas, lousy; my fault for ordering cannoli in a bread shop). But Delillo's Pastry Shop, which I loved 20 years ago and have been disappointed at in recent years, seems to be experiencing a resurgence. Their regina (aka sesame) biscuits are back in form, as are the sfogliatelle (once NYC's finest, and close to that again).
I went home and took a four hour nap.
Madonia Brothers Bakery
2348 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458
De Lillo Pastry Shop
606 E 187th St, Bronx, NY 10458
Zero Otto Nove
2357 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458