An Italian Town

As if there was any real doubt, New York is an Italian city.

I know it’s known as the great melting pot, and you can find cuisine from all corners of the globe there. But the standard, go-to food of choice has and always will be Italian.

It’s no surprise, then, that my first two NYC restaurant experiences since returning to the area have been at Italian restaurants. One was surprisingly good, the other… not so much.

CIBO

Located on a nondescript block on 2nd Avenue (near 41st), Cibo would like you to think they serve “contemporary American cuisine with Tuscan-inspired influences.” Really, it’s the other way around.

Not that that’s a bad thing. I love Tuscan food and culture, and appreciate when a chef at least attempts to modernize it. And when the food succeeds under the pressure of a party of more than 20 people, it’s all the more impressive.

The dinner was a three-course prix-fixe: appetizer, entree, and dessert. For the first course, I chose the baby spinach salad, with warm bacon vinaigrette and gorgonzola. It had great flavor and was not as overly reliant on the bacon and cheese as I thought it would be. Many others got the mozzarella, tomato and roasted pepper appetizer, which was also well received.

I was the only one at the table who ordered the day boat sea scallops with spring pea risotto, heirloom carrots, melted brown butter and bacon. The scallops were delicious (although not the best I’ve had) and the risotto provided a good complement of flavors. The risotto did, however, strike me as overly complicated, with big slices of onion and spring pea stems interjected into every bite. Most others ordered either the New York strip steak (with garlic butter and white cauliflower potato puree) or the free range breast of chicken (with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and quick wilted spinach), both of which received rave reviews.

The only letdown (from my point of view) was the desserts. I got a peach cobbler which was very disappointing: the peaches were hard, not nearly sweet enough and covered with brown sugar crumbing that really didn’t hold together. The chocolate pudding that others ordered looked similarly underwhelming. The only good choice that I could see was the chocolate souflee, which was ordered only by a lucky handful.

Despite the unfortunate final turn, Cibo proved itself a formidable Italian-American restaurant, one to which I would gladly return.

THALIA

It’s funny that the better of my two Italian meals (only one day apart) came from the beginning of bachelor party, rather than an anniversary dinner following a Broadway play.

The play, Boeing Boeing, was hilarious, even though some lighting apparatus interfered with the view from our first row balcony seats. We had made reservations at Thalia earlier in the day and were looking forward to a non-touristy special meal to follow up the show.

Unfortunately, it was an overpriced dud.

For an appetizer, the wife ordered the Baby Spinach Salad (anjou pears, pancetta, pecorino romano, candied walnuts, lemon, olive oil), which was just about the complete opposite of what Cibo got right the night before. First off, it was flavorless. Whatever dressing was supposedly there did not register, and without the pancetta (the wife is vege) and only a few scant pieces of pecorino, the salad provided nothing more than rabbit crunch.

AND, let’s not forget that the pear slices still had the grocery market label on them! This means that either the pears were never washed before being sliced, or whoever was preparing the food simply didn’t care to take a sticker off the fruit. That’s what we call a major party foul.

My “Fior de Latte” Mozzarella (tomato, parsley, basil, black olive tepanade) at least tasted better, but I was expecting something phenomenal, considering it was the most expensive appetizer and the cheese was made “in-house.”  This cheese was anything but smooth and the roasted tomatoes that accompanied them looked like they were fished out of a can.

Our entrees fared only slightly better. We both went for pasta, with my wife ordering the seafood Thaliatelle (rock shrimp, mussels, clams, shitake mushrooms, fava beans, tomatoes, mint, pecorino toscano, white wine) and me having the French Gnocchi (chicken bouillon, prosciutto, english peas, lemon zest).

The Thaliatelle seafood, especially the shrimp, was cooked well, but it was an otherwise basic dish. My gnocchi, on the other hand, was pretty much a mess. If it weren’t for the saltiness of the prosciutto, there would have been virtually no flavor. The gnocchi were either overcooked or just badly made to begin with, because they were pure mush. I barely had time to get them in my mouth before they dissolved on my tongue.

Maybe Thalia should take a few notes from Cibo. All of the high ceilings and luxury decor in the world can’t save a restaurant where the food isn’t good… and comes with labels.

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