NYC: Jason Kottke discovers what "magic" tastes like at Daniel: "The short ribs were excellent and I don't remember what I thought of any of the accompaniments, but the rib eye was a revelation. It literally floored me. Ok, not literally, but I would have been knocked to the actual floor if that kind of thing was acceptable behavior at Daniel. The first bite startled me it was so good. Beef, even really good beef, tastes like beef, but this was on some other level of flavor...it tasted like magic. The remaining few bites were as perplexing as the first as I struggled to comprehend how ordinary meat could taste like that. Best dish I've ever had in my life, ever. Ever!"
In these crazy, carbohydrate-phobic times, many restaurants do not know what to do with bread service, which has come to approximate an apology: a few pathetic rolls on a distant corner of the table; a tentative server with outstretched tongs and a poignantly timid smile. Petrosino throws caution to the wind. It provides a brimming paper bag of ciabatta and focaccia and a bowl of tomato sauce for each diner, encouraging everyone to dip away.
In the process Petrosino sends the signal that is has no airs (or at least very few of them) and indeed cares first and foremost about sating you: perhaps with a plate of tissue-thin prosciutto or with a bowl of mussels or with a moist mound of braised beef over creamy polenta. Its decorative flourishes reflect not pretentiousness but a desire for prettiness. Why not tickle the eye as well as the stomach?
Petrosino is sensible that way: eager to please, intent on making special, thoughtful gestures within the context of moderate prices and a modest Lower East Side location. (The hot zone of Schiller's Liquor Bar and WD-50 is a few crucial blocks away.)
. . . And I really like the food here, especially in relation to its price. Most of the half-dozen pasta dishes cost $13, which buys a generous portion, and two-thirds of those dishes are terrific.
The garganelli with prosciutto, peas and cream leans just hard enough on the prosciutto and just easy enough on the cream to be pleasantly salty but not unpleasantly soupy. The rigatoni with Italian sausage and peas was another standout — also robust, also restrained. The trofiette with shiitake mushrooms, truffle butter and Parmesan is recommended primarily for diners who have just completed triathlons or a long grub-noshing stint on the latest "Survivor."
Petrosino's chef, Patrick Nuti, who grew up and learned to cook in Tuscany, does not really favor any region of Italy over another. He occasionally borrows ideas from elsewhere around the Mediterranean. He pairs a Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce with a fillet of wild salmon for an entree. He puts couscous in a colorful and delightful appetizer salad of octopus and grapefruit.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Octopus salad with grapefruit; walnut-encrusted scallops; prosciutto plate; cavatelli with veal ragout; rigatoni with sausage and peas; garganelli with prosciutto and peas; ricotta cheesecake with Nutella.
. . .Its chef, Zak Pelaccio, did a brief stint at the short-lived Chickenbone Cafe in Brooklyn, where his culinary eclecticism and adventurousness generated more than a bit of buzz. He has brought those traits and that buzz with him to 5 Ninth, which opened in late May. Named for its address and avenue, 5 Ninth actually refuses to be fixed in any one place: even more than most restaurants in these boundary-blurring times, it defies simple categorization.
Asian-American? Malaysian-Mediterranean? Thai-Vietnamese-Italian? You could try a dozen geographical references, allow yourself three or four hyphens and still come up short. "Serious global dazzle" is how the publicity materials for the restaurant characterize Mr. Pelaccio's cuisine. That is a felicitous phrase with one serious flaw: at least at 5 Ninth, his food manages to dazzle only half of the time.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Garganelli with lamb hearts; steamed loup de mer; baby chicken with Malaysian marinade or white wine and rosemary; duck with foie gras and figs; banana pudding.