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November 29, 2007

New York, Day III

Dominic Armato
The afternoon of day three in New York was a little less food-focused than days one and two, but we dropped into a couple of nice little spots while cruising around midtown. Checking out the Time-Warner Center, we hit the recently opened Bouchon Bakery. Even an hour or two after the lunch rush, Thomas Keller's high brow food court offering was sporting a 15-20 minute line at the takeout counter. I hear they have some rather nice sandwiches, soups and salads, but we just made a quick stop for pastry. Good stuff all around! We used to live right above a fantastic French bakery, so it's possible I wasn't as wowed as I should have been, but pain au chocolat and an eclair were both right on the money and straight-up traditional as they come. A bacon cheddar scone and zucchini brioche were less traditional, but no less excellent. I don't know that it's worth a significant detour, but if you're in the neighborhood and looking for something sweet, it's a great place to stop. I look forward to sampling the more substantial fare at some point.

Dominic Armato
Leaving Columbus Circle, we waltzed across the southern edge of Central Park on a coffee quest. These were no aimless wanderings. My father was introduced to Bottega del Vino earlier this year by an Italian friend of ours, and he swore up and down it was the best macchiato he'd had outside of Italy. I should mention, in the interest of full disclosure, that a friend of a friend of my father's has some manner of interest in the place, but let me assure you that this was no errant claim. Coffee, like wine, has inspired its own little subset of food fanaticism, so I'll leave the dissection of the various notes, hints and aromas to those who have sampled more brews than I have. I will only say that this is probably the first cup of coffee I've had on this side of the Atlantic that didn't leave me pining for the coffee of Italy. Bottega del Vino is also a full-service restaurant, and one that looks rather nice, at that. But that, again, will wait for another visit. We had to save room for dinner at an old standby.

Dominic Armato
New York is home to an obscene number of Italian restaurants. And from what I hear, most of them are pretty damn good. I'm not really in much of a position to say, however, because I've been to precisely one -- Cafe Fiorello. I'm sure it isn't the best Italian to be found in the city. The odds are against it no matter how good it is. But Cafe Fiorello was the location of my first dinner in New York, and I've always found it so warm and inviting and flat-out delicious that it's really difficult to stay away, especially when I haven't been in nearly four years. It's a "not too anything" kind of spot -- lively but not too loud, informal but not too casual, comforting but not too rustic, quality but not too expensive -- the perfect place for a great, satisfying meal that isn't a big production. In short, the perfect place for a relaxing dinner on our last night out without the little fellow.

Dominic Armato
Cafe Fiorello's biggest strength, arguably, is a jaw-dropping antipasto bar. I almost hesitate to call it such, since a "bar" of anything conjures up images of forlorn items under heat lamps and public health hazards. "Spread", though crude, might be a little more appropriate, since you stare slack-jawed at a vast expanse of antipasti of every kind while a server patiently awaits your selections before filling your plate for you. Going to Cafe Fiorello simply to make a meal of antipasti is an entirely legitimate endeavor. There are about two dozen selections that rotate on a daily basis, and at times I've toyed with the idea of working my way through the entire table in one sitting. It might require a midday fast and a couple of like-minded companions, but it's entirely doable. This is a quest upon which I've not yet mustered the discipline to embark, but one must have goals. On this particular evening, I selected some Tuscan white beans, lightly dressed and tender yet toothsome, a bold caponata overflowing with sweet and sour, and caramelized fennel that might have become the sole component of my entire dinner if I hadn't already ordered.

Dominic Armato
My ladylove had one of their excellent pizzas, paper thin and the size of a manhole cover. When I say paper thin, I don't exaggerate as much as you think. Cafe Fiorello's is, by far, the thinnest pizza I've met. I don't note this as an indication of excellence, merely a statement of fact, yet excellence abounds. It's simple, fresh, vibrant, and one of the lightest pizzas you'll ever meet. Don't let the surface area fool you into thinking you'll need help with it. Sadly, an old favorite, the lobster and truffle pizza, seems to have been removed from the menu. Thankfully, my favorite dish remains. Cafe Fiorello does a dynamite veal chop Milanese. It's pounded out to the size of a serving platter, more a function of its thinness than the size of the chop, and served bone-in with lightly dressed arugula and tomato on top. This, for me, is the veal Milanese by which all others are judged. They season it beautifully, keep the meat moist and tender and the breading crisp, and dress it up just a touch without gilding the lily, I love this dish.

So in the end, this particular trip ended up being as much about the greatest hits as it was about new exploration. My hope is that there won't be a similarly long break before my next trip, so that I don't feel obligated to return to the old standbys and can branch out a little more. I dunno, though... two dozen antipasti may prove to be Cafe Fiorello's siren song the next time around. And it'd make a helluva blog post.

Bouchon Bakery
Time-Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
Mon - Sat11:30 AM - 9:00 PM
Sun11:30 AM - 7:00 PM
Bottega del Vino
7 E. 59th St.
New York, NY 10022
Mon - Fri8:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Sat9:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Sun10:00 AM - 10:00 PM
Cafe Fiorello
1900 Broadway
New York, NY 10023
Mon - Fri11:30 AM - 1:00 AM
Sat10:00 AM - 1:00 AM
Sun10:00 AM - 11:30 PM


Have you ever eaten at Trattoria Dell'arte? (same ownership as Fiorello)? Pretty much the same antipasto selection, but the pizzas look to be a little different. It's located on 57th and 7th Ave. The downside is that it tends to be very loud, but it's a decent option for pre- or post-theater.

If you like thin crust pizza, I highly recommend checking out one of New Haven, CT's legendary pizza places, Pepe's or Sally's (personally, I'd suggest Pepe's). Next time you're in NYC, it's an easy, 2 hour or less drive which is definitely worth it. Check out the signature white, clam pizza and I'm sure you'll agree.

Hey, Dave... no, I haven't. I wasn't exaggerating when I said that Fiorello is the singular Italian joint I've been to in NYC :-)

Justin... oh, yeah, New Haven is definitely on my list of food towns to get to. We lived a few doors down from a place in Chicago that reputedly did an honorable New Haven style pizza, but like everything else, I'm sure it isn't the same. I've never had a car while up in NY before, but now that we live in Baltimore, I expect we'll drive next time and get out in that direction.

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