New York City – It seems an eon ago that I worked as the wine director at Felidia Ristorante. In terms of the restaurant world, it probably would be considered an eon, and even if not, it’s a time that is a bit hazy in my mind. One thing that is clear however is the friendship that I developed with quite a few of the people who worked there. Though we’ve all scattered to the four winds over time, we run into each other now and again, and several of us have maintained that friendship.
One of those was our sous-chef, Giuseppe Fanelli, or, Joey. At one time he worked also at F.Illi Ponte, a fairly famous lower Manhattan Italian place on the water, and used to make me this great “angry lobster” dish that I still tell people about. I’ve been out on his boat with he and a former girlfriend (his, not mine) and other friends. He recently got married (congrats again!), and I’m sure my invitation just got lost somewhere between Westchester and Buenos Aires… He’s gone on to cook at Rao’s, Union Pacific, Baldoria, and Scopa, and finally gotten a chance to have his own venue. I’ve been promising him that when I got back to New York I’d come check it out, and last night, I found myself comfortably seated at the bar at Tre Dici, 128 West 26th Street. [Closed]
And, I do mean comfortably. Although possibly the strangest looking (and covered with a fabric in a design that, well, let’s just not go there…) barstools I’ve seen, they are quite probably the most comfortable barstools I’ve ever sat on. The room is done up in a sort of dusky rose color accented with brushed aluminum fixtures and silvery banquettes. The once boxy space has been transformed into a series of wavy walls and curves that make it seem much larger, and also give the whole place a fun feel. The rose marble bartop dominates the center of the room, and you can sit up front in “the bar” at high top tables, at the bar itself, or opt for a table in the main dining area. It all works. The staff are friendly and “easy on the eye.” I’d expect nothing less from Joey and his brother Frank, who manages the dining room.
The menu draws from the background of his family, in Puglia, but goes off in new and interesting creative ways. The bartender poured me a glass of Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2003, a somewhat off-beat, but quite delicious and aromatic wine. I ordered an argula salad that very simply, “had it going on.” At least I think that would be an appropriate street expression these days. Accented with pomegranate seeds, toasted almonds, and parmesan both in its au naturel state as well as in lightly golden crisps, this monster of a salad (it was big!) had great play in both flavor and texture. The pomegranate is a really nice touch for its bright flavor.
I moved on to try the agnolotti ravioli (I think of those as separate forms of pasta, but I could be wrong…) which were plump half-moons filled with a puree of scallop and sea bass topped with a tomato and caper sauce topped with a little cheese. I know, I know, cheese with fish and shellfish? Joey even brought it up in conversation – hey, if the flavor works, who cares about old-style rules. Besides, there are plenty of dishes out there that use cheese with products from the sea. Go for it. The agnolotti were superb.
But the best was yet to come. Braised veal cheeks, so tender I could have eaten them with a spoon, served in a tomato sauce atop, wait for it… black chickpea risotto. Okay, I have to ask, is the black chickpea the ingredient of the month? While I’ve only now sampled them twice, I’ve been looking at menus online and as I wander, and it seems to be popping up hither, thither, and yon. I loved them in the risotto. The dish is topped with deep-fried asparagus which added to the look, the flavor, and the texture of the dish. I was only able to finish about half, and took the rest back to Frank’s, where I’m staying, for him to try. As he ate he began making noises that are normally only appropriate in brothels, so I’m pretty sure he liked the dish.
Joey, you’ve got a winner!
(Still didn’t have the camera with me folks, and the phonecam shots were too dim and hazy to use, so you’ll just have to imagine these…)