Thursday, May 19, 2011


This restaurant will always be on my Top Ten list. I think it's one of the best casual Italian joints in the city, celebrating the abundance and rusticity that I think Italians do best. It's not fancy or nuanced, but Frank DeCarlo puts out as true of Italian food as any Mario or Giovanni, and with it he puts his heart and soul. I've never been to Peasant when he's not in the kitchen- a gorgeous, brick-walled open space with a glowing hot brick oven, butcher blocks counters strewn with huge bowls of seasonal produce, gleaming copper pots suspended from the ceiling, and a hustling team of concentrated cooks.

Our server was note-worthily perfect. Casually clad a black tee and jeans, but with an Wikipedic knowledge of the menu, acute recognition capabilities of regular diners (which the next table over was) and a genuine sense of hospitality. I wanted to invite him to dine with us. Although I didn't want to share our food.

We split the insalata stagionale, or actually, they split it for us- arriving on two
small plates divided judiciously and plated nicely (which wouldn't have happened had we been left to our own devices.) A harbinger of spring showcased green and white asparagus, crimson and golden beets, shaved fennel, radishes, slivered red onions and some bitey arugula to punch things up. If there was a dressing, it was ethereally light or else I missed it, but the vegetables were so fresh and flavorful they sang on their own.
Another appetizer was a seasonal special of thick, meaty spears of asparagus grilled to a slight char and crowned with a lightly poached egg for that classic combination. (Note: please forgive the abysmal photography of this entry. My dining companion, charming as he may be, was not cooperating as a contributing eater. He wasn't amused by my photographing our vittles, so I attempted to do so more furtively, without a flash. But in the candlelit dimness of the restaurant, this was hardly an easy feat.) For heartier appetites, there are a variety of brick oven Neopolitan pizzas, simple enough not to overpower oncoming courses, but flavorful enough to comprise a meal, as well, if you so choose.

I was thrilled to see that favorite fish of mine on the menu for a main course: skate, oven baked. Less thrilled was I that my dining partner insisted on the same, stating it as the whole reason for choosing Peasant. Uncooperative as a co-eater, for sure, but at least he had good taste. The whole wing arrived in a hellishly hot skillet, capers sizzling in the hot buttery juices pooling around the fish, which sported a light dusting of breadcrumbs atop instead of the usual all-over breading, allowing it to retain the integrity of its delicate flesh and unique, ropey consistency. A sprig of roasted thyme balances on top, which I recommend dispersing the tiny, fragrant leaves of across the dish, and use that juicy wedge of juicy lemon wedge to its full advantage.
Really a superlative preparation.. and super-sized. In retrospect we should've split the fish and sampled another main, but lucky you are that I can suggest you do so instead. We ordered a side of sauteed broccoli rabe, brilliantly green and sweetened with a fruity olive oil. Frank has a bit of a heavy hand with the e.v.o.o, for sure, but it doesn't come across greasy or sodden, probably due to the excellent pedigree of oils on hand. Those shy of a little extra lubrication might well be advised, however.

In a trifecta of misbehavior, my friend denied me the luxury of dessert at Peasant, although I haven't heard that they quite live up to the high bar set by all the other components of the restaurant. Instead, we shuffled off to Cones on Bleecker street for some (admittedly excellent) gelato. I went with a novelty flavor of sweet corn dusted with cinnamon, and one scoop of raspberry, which was a lovely pairing of creamy sweet to luscious tart, and light enough to top off a belly which was really not for want of more food.


Peasant Restaurant

194 Elizabeth St.
Phone: 212-965-9511

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