If Stefon was going to do a segment on Spring’s hottest restaurants in NYC, the jokes would all be riffs on the names of obscure pasta shapes. Over the course of the last couple of months, it seems like all that has opened up, and all that hearts are palpitating over, are restaurants rooted in Italian cuisine with pasta-heavy menus. There have been at least four to five notable openings, almost all from chefs (such as well-knowns Mario Batali and David Chang) and restaurateurs who are experienced and successful.
But a pasta moment in New York? It’s unexpected only because it’s not overly exciting. That’s not to say not delicious, just not very challenging or unique given that if you want to do either with a new restaurant, New York is probably a place to do it. Well, maybe not, given that chefs are regularly leaving because of the high cost of living and doing business here. And in terms of innovation, LA seems more hungry to be the leader that way.
Because pasta is always loved and forever comforting, it could be speaking to New Yorkers’ need for the easy and the known. Donald Trump on the political scene is enough to scare anyone toward a pot of Kraft Dinner. The prospect of years without the L train. The blah-ness of De Blasio. The death of adopted son David Bowie. The restaurant gods maybe see that New York could be in need of some carb comfort? That is, pasta might be the surest bet for the bottom line?
Most of these new places are just much too much to get into at the moment, so a friend and I stayed on trend but went to a not-as-new Italian restaurant in Bushwick: Faro. Early reports after it opened last year were all favourable, but given how easy it already is to get decent pasta in this city, a longer train was a deterrent to visit earlier. Recently, Faro started doing a chef’s table pasting tasting, which definitely made it more attractive. If only because it would allow for getting a better sense of the kitchen and be more special.
The tasting includes five pasta courses, two appetizers, and dessert for $85. When we began, I was slightly worried about value and satiation, as the appetizers were portioned more like amuses. They functioned like them, too, in that a few bites were enough to get my appetite going, but more than that would have been overkill. All worries about leaving hungry dissipated once I saw that the pasta portions were roughly primi-sized, plenty of food when multiplied by five. That didn’t stop me from asking for bread, though. Especially when it was coming hot from the oven in front of us. I don’t think we were supposed to get any, but they did not charge us extra.
For a pasta tasting and for a restaurant that specializes in homemade pasta, I think that we received a decent variety. The texture of the fresh pasta in all cases was good: not too soft or doughy, a nice chew, demonstrated skill in the shaping. However, I feel that I was a little bit disappointed in the promised flavours. If I had closed my eyes throughout, I would have thought that they were all based on the same ingredients. The gnocchi dough didn’t have any ricotta tang, I didn’t taste any allium in the maharrones, and most disappointing, I did not taste the salty sea in the strozzapreti. But this does not mean I didn’t enjoy the tasting. I very much did. I just didn’t get caught up on what the pasta was supposed to taste like and focused on how well the sauce worked.
Although the sweet pea agnolotti was easy to love, I think my favourite was the gnocchi dish. Well-cooked morels can be such a treat, but I became enamoured with the grated, cured egg yolk . Salty, yes, but with real body, more than even grated cheese. But now I remember taking a forkfull of maharrones with guanciale and wonder if that was my favourite. The sheets of fazzoletti with sugo pushed you away from the expected pappardelle, and I liked that, even if it meant I didn’t get to twirl any pasta that night. And yes, the strozzapreti was the least successful not only for the lack of tasting any squid ink but also because the sauce didn’t come together. The skate was great, well seasoned and tender. But the pumpkin seed pangratto only really added crunch, and there was too much of it. With the lack of expected punch from the pasta, its overall taste was flat.
Dessert was excellent. The girl “who doesn’t like chocolate” and “doesn’t like cake” does have soft spots for cakes that are chocolate and those made with olive oil. The modest little log of a cake was dense, moist, and just rich enough. I could not have been more happier that it was served with both ice cream and whipped cream—in a spoon-friendly dish, hooray! And I’ll take a drizzle of olive oil over a drizzle of caramel or chocolate any day.
The tasting has one seating only on Friday and Saturday nights, and it can accommodate up to six people. I was surprised that we were the only two taking part that night, but I guess it’s still new. People go to Roberta’s with the expectation that a night might get spendy, but I don’t think Bushwick is generally equated with $85+ destination dinners. Our isolation in the tasting meant that we got to chat a bit more with the executive chef, as he served us each course. As we only were presented with a written menu of our tasting, we asked if our dishes were normally on the menu or unique to the tasting. He said that all of our dishes were on their new Spring menu, but that normally, the tasting menu is completely different, much more interesting and exciting.
That was one sentence too many. I would have been and truthfully am, completely fine with the fact that we sampled a nice range of the everyday menu. But to be told that other guests have received dishes that were more interesting—suggesting better—was not what I wanted to hear. Whether it was meant as an apology or an encouragement to come back, it didn’t work successfully as either. What it did work as was more of an explanation for the fact that we got a less interesting menu because we were the only two taking part that night. It likely would have been more expensive for the restaurant to get special ingredients for only two people instead of six. I get that, but it would have been better to be ignorant of our “lesser” menu. It did not taint my experience, it was just slightly unfortunate. I would do the tasting menu again not because I’d expect a more exciting menu, but because, overall, I had a good experience with the menu I received.