July 15, 2024, 21:21

Zhuzhed-Up Italian, at Ci Siamo

Zhuzhed-Up Italian, at Ci Siamo

The Italian phrase ci siamo translates to “here we are,” a Godot-like statement that hints at the ethos of this new Hudson Yards-adjacent restaurant from the hospitality guru Danny Meyer: Here we are! But where is here? As with much of Hudson Yards, at Ci Siamo it feels like here could be any city in the vague middle U.S.—Denver, Houston, Cincinnati.

The chef, Hillary Sterling, spent time working with Missy Robbins, whose influence is evident in the exemplary fresh pastas.

The disorientation begins as, on your way, you pass through Manhattan West Plaza, whose features include an N.H.L. store, a Peloton Studios, and Citrovia, a garish faux garden of nineteen-foot steel-and-fibreglass lemon trees and shrubs with fabric snowcaps, which reads as a misbegotten vodka ad but is meant to be a “tourist attraction,” according to Google. Once you have finally located Ci Siamo—it’s so hard to find that the restaurant sends a chipper text with directions—the entryway’s warm hues and scent of woodsmoke put you at ease.

The wood-burning oven also turns out a flavorful half chicken, marinated in mustard, garlic oil, and oregano, charred to juicy perfection.

From the welcoming staff, who not only enhance but create ambience with their willingness to please (how do they stay so happy?), to the glamorous décor—handsome leather, velvet, Craftsman-modern tilework, all accented by scores of eclectic light fixtures—Meyer certainly knows how to attract the well-groomed professional class. But what pulls it all together is, of course, the food, and Meyer’s culminating move was to enlist Hillary Sterling as chef. In the past two decades, Sterling has worked in the kitchens of Bobby Flay—whose interplay of citrus and fruity spice shows up in a seafood salad—and Missy Robbins—whose influence is evident in Sterling’s exemplary fresh pastas; most recently, she was the chef of Vic’s, in NoHo, which she steered to its status as worthy neighborhood standby.

For the rapini agnolotti, Sterling folds ricotta and greens into paper-thin pasta envelopes; it’s finished with a lemony butter sauce and bread crumbs.

Sterling excels at zhuzhing up dishes we’ve seen before, and the menu at Ci Siamo is so stocked with crowd-pleasers that it can be difficult to choose. Begin with focaccia, an eight-inch round with the correct ratio of exterior crunch to interior fluff. It comes with a knife for cutting—an unwieldy task, but worth it—and a bright chili-flecked tomato spread that it doesn’t need. You are basically required to order the now famous Caramelized Onion Torta, described lovingly by a server, one evening, as “French onion soup in a tart.” It, too, is a personal-sized round, redolent of Uno’s pan pizzas in the best way, with a gorgeously flaky crust, piled with melty balsamic onions and Pecorino-infused cream. For your health, there’s the chilled Insalata di Mare, in which a few wan mussels don’t stand a chance next to succulent, nearly raw scallops, hunks of tender swordfish, and nuggets of poached lobster, dressed with Castelvetrano olives, parsley, and Aleppo-pepper-spiked lemon and orange juice.

Among the decadent fresh pastas, a hefty rigatoni is a hedonist’s delight, studded with guanciale batons fried to a crunch, the fat coating each ridged tube. Rapini agnolotti—paper-thin pasta envelopes of ricotta and greens finished with a lemony butter sauce and bread crumbs—was deemed, by one diner, “fettuccine Alfredo with broccoli”; heaven, if you like that kind of thing.

Desserts, by Claudia Fleming, formerly of Gramercy Tavern, include hazelnut gelato (top) and pull-apart bomboloni (bottom) with dipping chocolate.

The wood-burning oven turns out a lovely whole trout, deboned (of course) and stuffed with mustard greens, fried bread, and golden raisins for sweetness. Even better is a smoky mix of hen-of-the-woods, oyster, and trumpet mushrooms roasted with thyme, as well as a flavorful half chicken, marinated in mustard, garlic oil, and oregano, charred to juicy perfection.

When dessert is made by pastry royalty—in this case, Claudia Fleming, formerly of Gramercy Tavern—there is no possible reason to abstain. Good luck deciding between a rich chocolate budino, flower-shaped pull-apart bomboloni with dipping chocolate, a super-tart lemon torta, and a dense cheesecake with preserved cherries. One night, a server whose gelato recommendation went unheeded gleefully delivered a gratis bowl of rich, creamy hazelnut. When he swung by later to see how we liked it, he beamed at the answer. (Pastas and entrées $21-$43.) ♦

Sourse: newyorker.com

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