April 2, 2018 | About Gael
Don Angie: Something in the Way You Do It
Octopus Puttanesca with marinated tomatoes, charred bread and puddles of garlic yogurt.
Don Angie crowds into a small corner storefront on Greenwich Avenue, just 55 seats counting the bar. The menu seems modest too, a sonnet not an oratorio, except for the $116 prime rib braciole that we don’t even consider ordering. I’m haunted by memories of the chrysanthemum salad buried in Parmesan threads, and the stuffed garlic flatbread that we discovered a week ago (and ordered an encore of midway through dinner).
Seated at the big corner table, you have a view of Greenwich Avenue and escape the crowded room.
The seduction begins as soon as we escape the awkward entry to claim the piano-shaped table looking out at the village and West 12th Street. It has everything to do with the waiter Michael becoming family from his first pushy approach and rushing the skinniest flatbread to arrive with cocktails so we have sustenance while debating what we’ll eat.
The garlic flatbread arrives in time to sip cocktails and decide what we’ll eat tonight.
I’m not thrilled with the barbecued calamari but its nest of pepperoni fried rice with herbed labne is wonderful.
I only notice a cocktail when it’s really good, like this $15 Margarita with Calabrian chili honey and blood orange, even though I could easily do without the fennel liqueur flourish. The barbecued calamari is not especially impressive, but the pepperoni fried rice with herbed labne is good to the bottom of the bowl.
It’s not easy to catch Michael the waiter. He’s always off to the next crisis.
The bussers drop off the dishes we’re sharing but no serving spoons. Michael the waiter, calling me Gael now, sends them scurrying.
The spicy veal tartare of the tonnato vitello is hidden under tuna carpaccio.
Order the buffalo milk caramelle if only to see the wizardry of its black sesame stripe packaging.
Tonnato vitello is a reverse on the usual: spicy veal tartare cloaked in folds of tuna carpaccio. The caramelle pasta are sculpted to look like cellophane-wrapped candy, the black sesame stripe woven into the pasta dough. Are you detecting some Japanese accents here?
Garganelli giganti are tossed with broken meatball ragu, studded with guanciale and salted with pecorino.
Blackened sausage, capacollo and Anaheim chiles flavor chunks of chicken scarpareiello.
Broken meatball ragu with guanciale and pecorino is the pow that sauces garganelli giganti. We’ve only room for a single entrée, the chicken scarpariello with blackened sausage, capocollo and Anaheim chilies.
The creamy pastina porridge with mascarpone and chive buds is just a side, but it’s a must. My favorite dish.
But the mascarpone-lathered creamy pastina with a few lame chive buds, a simple $10 side, is the best dish of the night. I cannot stop eating it.
The Stillmans stepped in to help Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito have a place of their own.
These are the feverish creations of Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, the husband-and-wife chef team in the kitchen. They imagined the chicken Parmigiana pizza that was the centerpiece of a thousand dinners at Alan and Michael Stillman’s Quality Italian. I recall the waiter blending the steak sauce tableside and the irresistible oysters with breadcrumbs, scallions and sea urchin. That delicious madness was all Scott and Angie.
Michael Stillman had committed to help them when they were ready to launch a spot of their own.
Chef Scott Tacinelli and the manager, Damien Good, stop by to greet our table.
My date book is full of previous plans so almost a week goes by before we’re back. We’re only three tonight and Michael the waiter seems spread thin (not unlike the garlic flatbread we will start with), but he commits to service our table, dropping off a lineup of serving forks and spoons as the first move.
Raw sea bass with Sicilian saffron, citrus, black lime and mint makes a voluptuous crudo.
What didn’t I think of this? A salad with slivers of soppressata, caciocaveallo and pimento olives and cabbage.
The voluptuous ribbons of sea bass crudo with Sicilian saffron and the spicy antipasto salad -- a toss of soppressata, caciocavallo, and pimento olives with a crunch of celery and cabbage -- are dishes we’ve not yet tasted. And the kitchen sends the chrysanthemum salad.
“I’m bringing bread, too,” Michael announces, “because I remember you asked if we serve it.” The square-cut logs are oozing butter.
Sopressini and smoked mussels tossed with a Peroni beer and pimento-flavored sauce.
There is barely enough room for the second wave of dishes we plan to share. Paprika-infused sopressini pasta with smoked mussles in a sauce infused with pimentón and beer. Octopus puttanesca is tossed with nuggets of charred bread and garlic yogurt.
What makes the shell steak taste so salty is its coverlet of lemon – charred, cured and confited.
Shell steak, piled with lemon that has been charred, cured and confited, could be rarer and tastes too salty. Too salty for me, I should say, since my niece Dana pronounces it just salty enough for her. Again, an $8 side, the eggplant agrodolce with pine nut brittle and mint is a deliciously complex triumph.
Black cacoa tiramisu layered with Marsala caramel and mascarpone.
Honey zeppole with Sicilian pistachio and whipped robiola seems like a good idea, but I prefer the black cocoa tiramisu with Marsala caramel and mascarpone sent as a gift from the kitchen. Next time, I want to try drinking dessert: the “Reverse Sgroppino” or the root beer amaro (made in house with baking spices).
Dana Stoddard captured this sweet family scene, everyone reading their phone while waiting for dinner.
Let me apologize right now if you can’t get a table.
103 Greenwich Avenue between Jane and West 12th Street. 212 889 8884. Sunday to Wednesday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Thursday through Saturday 5:30 pm to midnight.
More BITES You Might Savor...
My Nights Off Quality Italian Lilia