We had to get there at five and cram ourselves into the impossibly small nook between bar and door on a rainy Sunday evening, just to prevent the inevitable flood of people coming in off the street. It's the same tactic I employed at Mission Chinese in San Francisco a few weeks back. For our troubles (and to help bide the time of our wait until the restaurant officially opened), we were rewarded with hot pepper poppers, a teeny amaretto sour and an equally teeny Mulberry daiquiri--named not only for the street in residence, but also for the jam blended into the cocktail. The poppers, stuffed with cheese and rice and accompanied by some pinkish mayonnaise, were just what we needed to stave off hunger.
Then, the witching hour arrived and we were miraculously shown to a table. We ordered thick, deluxe garlic bread, less garlicky than cheesy but totally acceptable given the accoutrement of soft ricotta, fresh basil, and tomato sauce. It was a miniature "make your own pizza" experiment. Six littleneck clams, baked with breadcrumbs and butter and lemon, did not disappoint, nor did a trio of little bowls filled with vegetables: rich mixed mushrooms in a bright vinaigrette; toothsome asparagus with softened croutons; and clean pickled vegetables (cauliflower, radish, onion, fennel, and red pepper).
But we had come for the parm.
The first, eggplant on semolina, offered all of the textures and flavors we remembered from Italian joints growing up, minus the excessive portions. Chicken parm, crisp but not oily, came blanketed in soft mozzarella and nestled next to a towering cube of baked ziti with more of that fresh ricotta. The special of the evening, simply called Chinese (we ordered one to go, illegally, it turns out) began with crunchy wontons dipped in duck sauce and hot mustard and ended with boneless pork spareribs and pork fried rice with homemade sweet Italian sausage.
The icing on our literal cake, save for the liter of Italian wine that came to us in a straw-bottomed Chianti bottle, was a three-tiered ice cream version with competing flavors of strawberry, chocolate, and pistachio, all tucked between layers of crispy cookie (think Carvel for inspiration) and frosted with that familiar and fondly remembered white ice cream icing. We didn't need to be convinced; we finished the whole slice.
248 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012