Spasso Lets You Ciao Down
Step up to some pigs' feet.
In the knows-no-bounds sea of pasta peddlers in New York, how does a new Italian restaurant stand out? Quite often it doesntbut that doesnt mean its a dud. Take Spasso, a West Village newcomer, for example. The food, while not mind-blowing, will happily feed you, and the space offers a quaint, unpretentious settingrare in todays West Village. Welcome to your secret neighborhood spot that everyone now knows about.
Spasso, which means amusement in the native tongue, doesnt quite fit the rustic Italian chic mold championed by recent additions Osteria Morini and Ciano. Its more the classic trattoria gone modern. Think marble and mirrors and leather-backed chairs. Cozy up on a banquette orif you love the schadenfreude of watching cooks slave in front of hot stovesat the secluded bar in the back overlooking the semi-open kitchen.
There, youll see Craig Wallen (formerly of Lupa and Convivio) preparing a large bowl filled with house-made stracciatella ($9). A spoon would be an apt way to eat the dripping dairy, though the accompanying toasted bread works equally well. Tastier, too. Shaved vegetables, frisée, and anchovies ($9) tumble into a bright and crunchy salad that sings of piazza dining, while pig trotters become funky fried nuggets and a satiny terrine ($9). Just call them by their Italian namepiediniand no one will know youre a foot fetishist.
Agnolotti ($19) provides a good excuse to slaughter baby cows (besides your leather stilettos, that is). The veal-plumped pockets might be a meek portion, but your caloric intake will surely be met, thanks to a silky, butter-laden sauce flecked with sage. Overall, the stuffed pastas, which include an excellent pea-and-prawn ravioli ($18), surpass the other noodles, which include an intriguing-sounding but underwhelming maccheroni with pork ragu, goat cheese, and fennel fronds ($20) and a spaghetti in tomato sauce ($16) that is both overly acidic and sweet.
Also take a pass on the trout saltimbocca ($25). You might wonder how prosciutto-wrapped anything could be less than stellar. Indeed, the dish is well-cooked, but when you realize it comes without a single side or garnish, well, its easy to feel like it was younot the fishthat got gutted. Add in an $8 side and feel the knife turning an extra time in the wound. But you can easily eat without becoming a pauper. Get the juicy duck breast ($28), which stretches across a bed of farro and fresh fava beansa satisfying dinner, plus tomorrows brown-bag lunch.
The desserts wont win awards for innovation, yet they, too, merit a look-see. Chocolate and caramel go tête-à-tête in a rich crostata flecked with sea salt ($8). Bombolini ($8), Italys answer to Dunkins Munchkins, are fried and coated in sugar, while a glass of chocolate sauce tags alongside. The orbs are a tad heavy, but when you fry dough and coat it in sugar, theres really nothing to say except, Get in my belly.
Or attain that bella figura by downing some vino. Check out the section called surprising wines, devoted to unusual grapes and lesser-known producing regions like Puglia and Calabria. Cocktails, both Italian (a blushing Negroni, $14) and not (a slightly too-tart Hemingway Daiquiri, $14), also entice tipplers. The space gets loud and buzzy come weekends, and elbows tend to fly near your seatmates. But early weekday evenings offer a surprising tranquility, a place filled with neighborhood locals who remember the day when Cosmo was just a magazine, cupcakes were served only at four-year-olds birthdays, and brunching had yet to become a verb.
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