The Early Word: Piccola Cucina
The 22-seater that recently opened in the space formerly occupied by Cafe Tina on Prince Street is helmed by Philip Guardione, who cut his teeth under Sergio Mei at the Four Seasons in Milan, but learned much of what he knows and loves about food in his native Sicily.
The dining room at Piccola is so, well, piccola that the wait staff have to take a detour outside to serve the far corner tables. One wonders what they'll do in winter. Like the chef, much of the fish is brought in from Sicily, such as the tuna and swordfish for the crudo. These delicate, translucent strips of fish are peppered with fennel, an herb that crops up in many of the dishes.
Fish seems to be the thing to have at this heavily Sicilian-influenced restaurant. The grilled squid on a broccoli puree with squid ink is a subtle combination of flavors and textures that complement each other beautifully. The grilled octopus, with an eggplant puree and fennel-orange salad, is less successful due to a slight overcooking of the tentacles--a common, easy fault with tentacles.
Fish also features prominently in the primi section of the menu. A sea urchin pasta tasted of the sea--rich and briny--while a shrimp and ricotta ravioli (actually made with crayfish--probably a translation issue with the menu) in a tomato confit verged on berry-sweet. Diverging from fish for the secondi was probably not the best idea: A filet mignon was boring, as filet mignon so often is, and a lamb dish was good but not life-changing.
Chef Guardione was overheard talking about the "aperitivo" hour he would be implementing, which will feature a glass of champagne with oysters, crudo, or prosciutto di Parma and cheese for $18, $23, or $16, respectively. If the portions of crudo are anything like those in the appetizer, this after work drinks deal will be hard to beat.
Piccola Cucina, 184 Prince Street, 212-625-3200
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