October 12, 2009 | BITE: My Journal
Plump wild mussels with spicy salami in a fragrant, garlicky broth. Photo: Steven Richter
Sfoglia’s late-summer shutdown to rejigger the entrance, stake its claim to a small carryout shop next door, Tutto Sfoglia, and double its tables has not quite absorbed the crowd’s demands the recent Tuesday we settled beside the wine racks at a wide round in the rear of the annex. A big party of walk-ins has been gratefully exiled to the small upstairs party room. A flutter of anxious standees cluster at the door. “Who said New Yorkers are not eating out?” one of our companions asks. Alas, even with its new six-burner stove top, the kitchen’s pace seems a bit slow. Still, we have splendid olives, of course, big chunks of the house’s shiny butter slicked bread – warm, crackle-crusted, slightly salty – wine to sip, and much to talk about.
The view from our table. Tutto Sfoglia doubles the seats to 60. Photo: Steven Richter
When mussels are in season, Sfoglia gets the biggest and fattest and The Road Food Warrior and I abandon our usual tasting and passing. We both must have the voluptuos wild mussels with slivers of spicy salami in a heady broth, fragrant with tomato and fennel. One of my companion’s thick puree of sweet red pepper soup with marscapone and amaretti is typical of the chef’s delicious and cheeky way with vegetables that almost always appeals to me. But there’s a risk in hi-jinks. Tonight’s antipasti della casa with tomato salad, sweet summer beets and berry focaccia works while a salad of roasted wild mushrooms with shaved peaches and kale frizzies definitely does not.
Lumps of mozzarella melt into telefono strings. Photo: Steven Richter
It’s love of pasta that keeps bringing me back to Sfoglia. I had wandered into the tiny storefront cater corner from the 92nd Street Y after a gig in 2006, alerted by a fan of Ron and Colleen Suhanoskys’ Nantucket Inn. Though amused by the uptown whimsy of country cottage airs on Lexington Avenue - unmatched tables, flour sack wall hangings and farm tools illuminated by pink glass chandeliers from Murano - and excited by Colleen’s unusual, startlingly delicious bread, I studied the menu with my typical show-me armor. Spaghetti with San Marzano tomatoes and strawberry definitely made me wary. Then I tasted. How exciting to be wrong. The tang of the fruit and balsamic vinegar was a revelation.
Risotto tossed with corn, lobster, summer squash and peppers. Photo: Steven Richter
After my first rave, other critics came and loved it too and the house began booking a month, even two months ahead. I counted myself lucky to get in on someone’s cancellation, eager to try the latest vegetable riff – string beans in tuna sauce, bitter rapini with black olive pesto, roasted treviso with apricots and rosemary in balsamic. Of course I might succumb to black bass on a bed of puntarelle or a perfection of monkfish I can never forget, the chicken al mattone (crisped under a heavy weight) or sweet and hot sausages with roasted plums. But more likely I would not resist the latest variation in gnocchi. Sweet potato gnocchi with drowned prunes and a dizzingly rich baked goat cheese gnocchi alla parmigiana are two that haunt me. And I was bowled over one evening by monkfish-ricotta “meatballs” with pepperoncini on linguine.
A crunch of guanciale adds pizzazz to ricotta gnocchi. Photo: Steven Richter
I try not to show how much I hate sharing tonight’s marvelous ricotta gnocchi with zucchini, crisp bits of guanciale and cannellini beans. Not that I couldn’t be happy with the fusilli al telefono (so called for the strings of melted mozzarella) or corn risotto with bits of lobster, summer squash, peppers and basil, though not the pappardelle with its surprisingly stodgy Bolognese. True, I walk into this place with such high expectations. And I do take the occasional stumbles personally – two unseasoned pastas on an evening I am showing off to friends from Paris, or an unseemly puddle of butter in the gnocchi dish some weeks later. Did it have to be the Venetian cooking teacher’s pasta?
I always order Colleen’s rustic tart for the table to share. Photo: Steven Richter
135 East 92d Street, corner of Lexington. 212 83l 1402. Lunch Tuesday through Saturday noon to 2:30 pm. Dinner seven days 5:30 to 10:30 pm. Tutto Sfoglia open during meal service.
At the moment, fans stopping by Tutto Sfoglia for carryout – pasta to heat up at home, gelato, selected imported products or one of the big turban shaped rounds of Colleen’s unique bread – will be tempted by the couple’s new cookbook, Pasta Sfoglia (Wiley $29.95). In the preamble to these 100 pasta recipes, I've discovered their Italian grandfathers and their passion for Italy, the time they spent working at Il Cibreo in Florence. I imagine I see the free range creativity of Cibreo Chef Fabio Picci reflected in the Suhanosky's bravura.
I confess I won’t be making goat’s cheese as Ron and Colleen do. I’m too lazy. But the instructions are there. I’m tempted by spaghetti with shaved lemon, basil and black pepper or with lemon juice, almond pesto and grated ricotta salata and a dish as simple as spaghetti with speck, peas and cream. All my favorites are here too, the monkfish polpette, the baked gnocchi, the strawberry-spiked San Marzano tomato dish. Won’t somebody try buckwheat pappardelle with crème fraiche, fried shallots and caviar and please invite me? The rush of heat I feel reading the recipe for crab cannelloni with savory zabaglione or the rigatoni with five cheeses in parchment is not unlike what I once felt sneak-reading my parents’ copy of Forever Amber under the covers. Fantasize for a moment about gnocchi with braised oxtail, ginger and cocoa (a Renaissance notion). I do mean to suggest you might want to read it like an erotic novel.
Spaghetti, Strawberries, Tomato, Balsamic
Photo: Ben Fink
"During our stay in Reggio Emilia, Colleen and I worked briefly at Ristorante Picci, owned by the Picci family, who also produced their own balsamic vinegar. It was at the restaurant that we discovered the Italian habit of macerating strawberries in balsamic vinegar. The slight acidity of the vinegar serves not only to emphasize their sweetness, but also to accelerate the release of their juices. We found this combination very pleasing.
When we opened our first Sfoglia restaurant on Nantucket, we joined in a local island activity and picked our own berries from local farmers’ strawberry fields. It was then that I remembered our Italian strawberry experience and envisioned balsamic vinegar–macerated strawberries tossed with some spaghetti. When I told Colleen about my idea, she suggested that I add acidic tomatoes to counterbalance the sweet-tart strawberries. We have customers who come to the restaurant once a year just for Spaghetti, Strawberries, Tomato, Balsamic. It’s become one of our signature dishes. There is only a small window between May and June for enjoying this pasta because it can be made only with ripe and in-season strawberries."
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
1½ cups (approximately 1 pint) fresh strawberries, large berries cut in half, small ones left whole
2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
2 cups peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound good-quality spaghetti
1. Add the grape seed oil and strawberries to a 10-inch skillet. Turn on the heat to medium. Cook the strawberries until tender—the sides will become transparent.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water (see page 29) to a boil.
3. Stir the vinegar into the strawberries and reduce by half. The sauce will appear syrupy. Use your hands to squeeze and break up the tomatoes directly into the skillet. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Lower the heat to a simmer.
4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. Use a wire-mesh skimmer or tongs to remove the spaghetti from the pot and place them directly into the skillet. Stir to coat the spaghetti with the sauce.
5. Serve immediately.
Copywright 2009 Ron and Colleen Suhanovsky