Jared Sippel is a patient man. To wit: The Iowa-born chef — with a decade and a half of experience living and cooking around the U.S. and southern France under his belt — waited nearly four years to assume command of his own kitchen in New York City. Recruited in 2013 to run a restaurant within the midtown Manhattan location of the Brooklyn Fare supermarket that never panned out, Sippel sought a new partnership after a year of twiddling his thumbs. When that project also fizzled out, he set off to captain his own ship.
You won’t need to exercise that kind of perseverance and self-restraint at Italienne, which Sippel opened in November a block or so west of Madison Square Park after two years of construction and numerous delays. Co-owner and general manager James King keeps things operating with polished efficiency and cordial concentration in the sprawling, glossily rustic space, even as the wood-and-white-hexagonal-tile-lined “taverna” area teems with boisterous throngs of well-dressed professionals crowding its white marble-topped bar. A cherry-red Berkel prosciutto slicer stationed up front gleams like a sports car on display, next to a broad counter that holds superlative breakfast treats (flaky, feathery croissants; twisty sugared puff pastry batons known as sacristains) from pastry chef Rebecca Isbell in the morning and massive rounds of organic parmigiano-reggiano at dinner. The old-fashioned machine’s hand-cranked wheels spin fast throughout the night, ensuring that cured meats ($25 for three, $40 for five) — whorls of paper-thin mortadella, locally made air-dried beef prosciutto, and genuinely translucent slips of lardo — appear within minutes of ordering.
Your fancy cold cuts arrive with chewy whole-grain toast from cult Kings County bakers the Brooklyn Bread Lab. And should you feel particularly ritzy under the bar’s hanging braided rope lamps and high ceilings, you can curl up with in-house cheesemonger Kathleen Serino’s offerings, including a sampling of three stages of that parmigiano-reggiano with 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Small nibbles (think $11 oil-cured vegetables, $4 arancini, and $9 anchovy or chicken liver toasts) join the salumeria fare as ideal complements to drinks, whether one of Travis Oler’s stiff digestivo-forward cocktails, like the “Febbraio in Friuli,” which uses that region’s Amaro Nonino with Jamaican rum and allspice liqueur, or a bottle chosen by wine director Erica O’Neal, who, like King, knows Sippel from his time at Boulder, Colorado’s Friulian fine-dining destination Frasca Food and Wine.
French for “Italian,” Italienne is the 35-year-old chef’s love letter to a confluent region that encompasses southern France, northern Italy, and the Alps, Sippel’s passion having been stoked by his experiences working and traveling in Provence and beyond. He in turn is a generous sharer, kindly giving customers multiple ways to appreciate his team’s efforts. Grazers will find plenty to like among the share plates on the taverna’s casual à la carte menu, including Comté cauliflower gratin (speckled with black truffle on one visit, ruddy from curry powder the next), buttery blue-corn polenta with sautéed mushrooms, and an entire knotted orb of burrata cheese afloat on a raft of jammy, sweet-sour summer bell pepper preserves. You should also make a point to save some table space for Sippel’s incredible heirloom bean stew ($13) fortified with peverada, an earthy Venetian sauce made with chicken livers. And while there are composed entrées, like a $33 Scottish sea trout in a pool of vermouth butter, and pizzas that pair pork with everything from cranberry mostarda (prosciutto) to grilled broccoli (guanciale), don’t pass up dedicated pasta maker Lauren Ross’s gorgeous creations and other gluten-y delights — crescent-shaped casoncelli sprinkled with fried sage and pancetta, say, or the Teutonic-derived bread-and-cabbage dumplings known as canederli, which here play host to a harmonious concert of sweet apple and bracing horseradish.
In the recessed, softly lit main dining room, Sippel and his crew put together a formal four-course prix-fixe that runs $98 and incorporates all manner of fashionable haute-cuisine trappings, like a tuxedoed floor manager, a roving amaro cart, and the lacy Provençal bread called fougasse, made in house, which arrives at the table hanging from a standing hook and smelling of the olives kneaded inside. You might find caviar and sweetbreads lurking among the list of “beginnings,” and expectedly, Ross gets a bit more intricate with her pasta dough work here, fashioning corkscrews of trofie to go with a seafood sauce based on bouillabaisse and pinching together large cheese tortelloni that the kitchen matches with crunchy hazelnuts and cardoon honey. Of the former, which are hand-rolled Ligurian noodles, Sippel tells the Voice that in addition to orange zest and chopped mussels and clams, he finishes the plate with garlic oil and pickled green garlic, “to give it that punch” bouillabaisse typically gets from its aioli-slathered crostini. Greenmarket discoveries find their way into main courses — witness the nutty tubers, known as crosnes, Sippel serves alongside a snowy, flaky loup de mer — though a premium is still put on indulgences like foie gras, here gussying up a dish of milk-fed chicken with cranberries and chestnuts.
Luckily, no matter which room you’re seated in, you can end your meal with Isbell’s whimsical desserts. Working from a station in the back of the formal dining room, she’s a sneaky pastry whiz, which in the taverna translates to crackly-topped brioche and a gorgeous frosted citrus–poppy seed cake hiding a layer of tart curd. In the dining room, peaty Laphroaig whisky sends a jolt through the île flottante, but it’s her “torchon” that actually shocks. Designed to look like a puck of foie gras, the oat-infused Bavarian cream is shot through with ribbons of brown-butter chocolate cookie and every bit as splurge-worthy as the stuff that gets animal-rights activists in a tizzy. A rose by any other name, it would no doubt make a splash in the old country.
19 West 24th Street, 212-600-5139
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 15, 2017