Wednesday night found me at Torrisi Italian Specialties, finally, over a year after the buzz-y place opened. Reservations are now accepted, which meant getting through the hallowed doors is easier, though I got mine--an unfathomably early 5:30--on OpenTable. The dining room is small and meant to resemble an old Italian home, I think, with lace drawn curtains and old, mismatched plates in varying patterns that could have appeared at my grandmother's dinner table had my grandmother been inspired by things less Liberace and more Fred Astaire. The menu is fixed, with a series of snacks leading into a pasta course, a meat course, and a cookie course. The night we were there, and additional dessert special ran for $10. We had to order it.
Mozzarella, house-made. A perfect pillow glazed with olive oil and accompanied by two crusty heels of garlic bread. Then an oil confit of mackerel, hot and cold, savory and sweet. Sweetbreads came grilled, in my favorite incarnation, over giardinera, Italian pickles. The acid cut perfectly through the fat of the veal. Our last snack course: tender fermented broccoli rabe in a feather light robe of tempura batter, bitterness be damned.
Pasta was a clever take on pasta e fagiole. A fresh linguine in broth arrived with cannellini beans, pork belly, ham oil, and kale. I could have eaten three more bowls. Ditto for my fish, breed unknown, which came swimming in a tomato broth with unshelled mussels. Duck was sliced very thick and cooked skin on and though it and it's accompanying tender were perfect, the hearts were slightly overcooked. I overlooked the detail because the coconut almond tart, topped with meringue and reminiscent of the best Almond Joy I ever had in childhood made up for any of the meal's indiscretions. So, too, did a cookie plate of a tiny cannoli that did not betray its ricotta, a rainbow cookie, and a few other perfect confections.
The next afternoon, it was on to lunch at glossy Oceana, where I sat at the bar with a bottle of Aligote and enjoyed a decent lunch. A beet salad was woefully undercooked ("I like my beets with texture," my companion said, but this was a technical error). Even though I don't like beets, I appreciated the combination of orange supremes and beet wedges on the plate. Hiramasa tartare, with just a hint of hot pepper and cubes of pear, was more successful--a clean, well-executed dish that I would eat again.
My soft shell crab entree was fine. Just fine. The crust didn't stick quite right and the pineapple salsa didn't have enough creaminess to adhere to the crab. A side of ramps were cut so small as not to resemble ramps at all. Alas. A final plate of cookies satisfied my sweet tooth--the standouts were a coconut macaron sandwich stuffed with chocolate and a soft iced lemon cookie. Good for lunch, but no brain busters here.
Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
120 W. 49th Street
New York, NY 10020