Put down your forks full of meatballs and manicotti. With the recent influx of Italian restaurants, New York City has been experiencing an Italian food Renaissance, and the choices are incredibly appetizing, whether you prefer rice balls or risotto with champagne & lobster. While those who love Italian food often have their steadfast go-to restaurant, one thing is certain: these new places are tempting enough to become favorites.
Old world Italy makes its appearance in the East Village at cozy Spina, where pasta maker Blanca works her magic in a corner of the dining room with handmade gnocchi, pappardelle and types of pasta known only in Italy. Great spot for a date. Friendly service.
Must-eat dish: the mussels, served in a peppery broth
Spina/175 Ave B at E. 11th/212-253-2250
In the minimalist yet intimate dining room at Piccola Cucina, the waitress suggested rice balls and at first I was hesitant, but the aranci (shaped like an orange) rice balls, were definitely tastier than the banal ones I’ve had elsewhere. There were two on a plate: one filled with eggplant and the other beef. Very nice service. Great for a date or party of 4.
Must-eat dish: mushroom risotto
Piccola Cucina/184 Prince St/212-625-3200
Civetta, on the edge of Little Italy and Soho, is a bustling place best enjoyed with a group of friends. Entrees lean toward being pricey ($35 for sautéed prawns) but the large menu has many highlights, especially the antipasti. Order several, such as grilled leeks, carpaccio and seafood fritto misto and you’ll be satisfied.
Must-eat dish: Baby Octopus with celery, guanciale salad, red wine dressing
Civetta/98 Kenmare St near Lafayette/212-274-9898
In far west Soho, Sora Lella, the second incarnation of a restaurant in Rome, is situated in a sort of no man’s land, but it’s worth a visit, at least for the eponymous house cocktail made from an old recipe, the very unique rendition of a caprese salad and the gnocchi, simple yet superb.
Must-eat dish: homemade gnocchi amatriciana in a fresh tomato sauce with smoked bacon, topped with roman pecorino cheese
Sora Lella/300 Spring St near Hudson/212-366-4749
I’ve left the best for last. A Voce in Columbus Circle is one of the best places I’ve dined all year. From the service to the food, this is an impeccable dining experience (and what a great view!). It’s also received the Presidential stamp of approval: Obama and his wife were regulars at the chef’s former restaurant in Chicago.
Must-eat dish: Pork belly with figs plus the grilled veal chop with Umbrian black truffle sauce
A Voce/10 Columbus Circle, 3rd floor/212-823-2523