February 11, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
Bread Yes, But Not By Bread Alone: Adam Leonti Cooks.
On our second visit, we ordered the antipasti collections for the three of us to share.
I’m excited to see that puntarelle comes with the chicken in pastella at Leonti. When my guy Steven and I spent a January in Rome we used to buy the pungent green in the Campo de’ Fiori market for our lunch salad. I can’t recall seeing it before in New York. It looks odd.
“The puntarelle in Rome didn’t look like this,” I tell my friends, who don’t see why I’m so thrilled with this inauspicious-looking vegetable.
I get excited when puntarelle arrives as a side dish with the fried chicken.
“You can’t imagine what we go through to get it,” beverage manager David McGovern says, overhearing our conversation.
“Is one of your farmers growing it here?” I ask chef-owner Adam Leonti. He doubts it. “We had to send someone to the market in Rome who ships it to us,” Leonti says. “We had to commit to take eight cases a week.”
Just around the corner from Shake Shack are the steps and door to Leonti’s where Dovetail used to be.
Chef Adam Leonti was caught by a no-compete clause and left to work overseas until it expired.
Indeed, the chef and his partners made a major commitment to the upgrade of what had been Dovetail, a pocket of fine dining that won Chef John Fraser a Michelin star and three huzzahs from the Times. He’d sold his shares to his backers and gone off to focus on his downtown empire of Nix, Narcissa, Narcbar and The Loyal.
Salt and pepper comes in roly poly glass grinders decorated with silver.
The white-washed brick-walled room with plush carpets used to seat 83 and is now set to welcome 70.
Walls were whitewashed, plush carpets unrolled, tweed stretched over corner banquettes, odd ornaments scattered about. Up front, a full-service bar seats 12 and the dining room that had held 83 is now set for 70.
Dovetail had been an ambitious effort in the mostly relaxed dining of the Upper West Side and now Leonti seeks to up the impact. All this drama is just steps from the hullabaloo at Shake Shack around the corner of Columbus.
In the early days waiters rotated in and out while the staff fond its mojo.
Tripe salad, pata negra and bufalo mozzarella with persimmon are small dishes in the antipasti service.
One evening we’re three sharing the antipasto service, “a seasonal collection of savory treats.”Dozens of small plates cover the tablecloth: salmon crudo with crescenza cheese, yogurt sformato with cumin, tripe salad, stuffed eggplant, bufala mozzarella with persimmon, bottarga with lemon, bruschetta with anchovy and candied hazelnut, pâté of cabbage with mortadella and a dozen more.
We asked to have the bay scallop spaghetti divided in three on our second visit. That was a challenge.
Our host ordered the whole salt-baked branzino with buttered turnips and beets. We all shared it.
That could be dinner except that we’ve ordered bay scallop spaghetti, a carefully cooked whole branzino and, alas, a veal chop so tough I can’t cut it with a sharp knife.
Alas, the veal chop in bagna cauda was so tough, I couldn't cut it with a sharp knife.
Chestnut gnocchi with chanterelles sit on a castelmagno fonduta.
“Send it back,” our host urges. But I don’t want to upset the chef so early in his game. I share the exquisite fish.
The menu, trimmed by my third visit, still offered Roman artichoke lasagna with mint.
Now it’s my third dinner here. I notice the menu has been trimmed. Two starters and two entrées seem perfect for the three of us, we agree, and not as expensive as $65 for the whole salt-baked branzino would suggest. My niece Dana sips fiano di Avellino. Our friend Lyn likes the Bruno Giacosa, a delicate wine from Piedmont, suggested by the beverage manager who’s given up his job at Le Bernardin to come here.
The bread doesn’t look particularly special, but it is a house obsession, made from heritage wheat milled in the cellar and served warm, with cultured butter alongside. The candles from the first evening (when everything that could go wrong, did) have been replaced by votives in etched glass. And the plates come from a collection of precious china.
I’m not a bone broth fan but I’m definitely a fan of the handsome covered cups it's served in.
I’m not a bone broth fan. But it’s been a polar winter, so soup makes sense and I love the little cups it comes in. I look forward to a fish broth in spring and something with berries come summer. My idea, not Adam’s, but who knows?
Our perfect third dinner began with chicory salad: radicchio, hazelnuts and gorgonzola.
Inside the handsome tortellini pie are meatballs, béchamel sauced and ragu Bolognese.
For now we are sharing the chicory salad, a vivid tumble of radicchio, with chopped hazelnuts and gorgonzola.
The Roman artichoke lasagna with mint, my favorite of the primi, looks like a couturier dreamed it up. At $48 the tortellini pie ought to be a production, and it is: a riot of meatballs, béchamel, and ragu Bolognese seasoned with aged balsamic.
At one point there was milk-braised lamb served with tarbais beans on the menu.
The chicken goes through a complicated prep including a wrap in sour dough batter.
I can’t imagine ever coming here for dinner and not ordering the crusty chicken (even after the accompanying puntarelle goes out of season). The bird gets the usual brine. Then it’s confited till medium rare, so it remains moist when it gets crumbed with sourdough and goes into the fryer. In the end the crispy parts are brushed with agrodolce, so it’s lemony and almost sweet. I’m a dark meat lover. I take the leg while my friends are just being polite. But even the white meat is unusually rich.
I thought I’d love the cinnamon fettucine but it proved to be an unpleasant combination.
Even though we make a point that we will be sharing, we have to ask for serving pieces again and again. The waiters bring extra plates but seem to think a single fork each will carry us through the night. “Serving pieces,” I hiss, annoyed the third or fourth time I have to ask.
Sbrisolona is a humble and delicious pastry with goat’s milk ricotta and cranberry sorbetti.
The plastic blocks that made the dessert list difficult to handle opening week have disappeared. And I don’t see the apple upside down cake or the tartufo on tonight’s dessert menu. The woman who takes our order pretends to know what a sbrisolona is when we ask. Then she excuses herself and goes to the kitchen to find out. Apparently she can’t find anyone who knows. But we order the ricotta sbrisolona with cranberry anyway. The homey little goat cheese on crumbly cake, decked out with cranberry sorbetto is wonderful.
Candies at the end. Yes. I'll have one of each and two apricot gells.
We are only charged for three glasses of wine though I think we got an extra pour. That makes it $80 per person. Not a lot if you consider the milling of flour, the bones, the crisp white tablecloths, the fancy silverware and the exquisite plates.
There are bowls of cookies near the exit – gingersnap, chocolate chip and pecan-hazelnut wedding rounds in confectioner’s sugar. I can’t resist the delicate nut cookies. They remind me of the “Pecan Dreams,” from Paula Peck’s The Art of Fine Baking, that I used to make for friends at Christmas.
103 West 77th Street just west of Columbus Avenue. 212 362 3800. Sunday through Thursday 5 pm until 10 pm. Friday and Saturday 5 pm until 11 pm.
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