Sunday, September 8, 2013


Even dining with a native Italian, I didn't quite come to understand exactly the meaning of "spasso" until I Google translated it.  Perhaps as the restaurant is counting on traffic from passersby, "spasso" means walking.  And although it is easily within walking distance from my house, I still hadn't been in in the two years or so since it opened, despite it receiving accolades from a trusted source (read: chef).   On a balmy summer night, one not too muggy nor too hot, Spasso presented itself as a optimum destination for an al fresco meal.  Hudson isn't such a busily trafficked stretch by automobiles, so even though it is the street-facing patio in front was that which provided the outdoor seating, it was pleasant to watch neighbors bustling by and other hungry diners on their way to the myriad great dining establishments in the area.

We began with a Boticelli, a refreshing watermelon cocktail of white tequila, pummeled watermelon and a bit of bubbles, garnished with an slice of the melon ample enough to justify its nomenclature.  A cocktail to begin is a good idea if you need a little pre-prandial softening up, for at least if our pours of wine were normative, they are less than generous with the vino.  The sauvignon blanc reached maybe an inch and a half up into the goblet: a meager pour of an ultimately pretty decent wine.  We evolved later to a chardonnay, but alas, same dimensions.  Both glasses together probably added up to a single normal glass of wine. At any rate, the sauvignon well complimented our appetizers,
 especially my summer vegetables with farro and herbs.  A summery hodgepodge of peas and beans and beets and carrots tumbled amongst the chewy, nutty grains and legumes in a lightly acidic
 vinaigrette, sprinkled with chervil.  It could have perhaps used a touch more salt (of which there is none a table),but  our second appetizer more then made up for its lack of salinity:  tender tentacles of savory grilled octopus lost some of the flavor of the premium cephalopod to the kitchen's heavy hand with the salt, but swapping bites of the two different dishes actually achieved quite a symbiotic success.    Rustic bread is densely crusted and soft of crumb, provided upon seating and more upon request, if necessary.  A fruity emerald e.v.o.o. is alongside for dipping.

A primi was big enough for a main, although typically in Italiy it would serve as a mid-course.... and this place seems pretty authentic.  We chose a special of the evening, slinky black strascinati smothered in a novel bolognese made with ground squid instead of meat.  Given the Italian aversity to cheese with seafood, it was adorned with a crunchy veil of pangrattato instead of parmesan, which contributed a textural benefit without departing from tradition.  The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, the sauce was lusty with peak-season tomatoes and fresh garlic, and the bowl consequently swabbed clean with the remainders of our bread.   From secondi  we ordered a trio of seareed scallops, their golden tops so brilliantly bronzed so as to achieve a rich,
 crisp crust, while retaining the ideal tenderness of the remaining scallop below.  Dainty steamed carrots nuzzled into a puree of more of their own, scattered with bright edamame and a flutter of delicate fennel fronds.  Garlicky green beans as a side were a tad undercooked, and suffered a bit from oiliness, but a side dish is a good idea given the sparsity of the plates.  Perhaps opt for the broccoli rabe, or another vegetable side that vary seasonally.

Desserts offer as many choices as the main menu, so it'd be unlikely one couldn't find something to tickle their sweet tooth.  Ours was handsomely sated with a creamy vanilla panna cotta smothered in jammy blueberry compote, bursting with prime, whole berries.  The custard was dense, more like a light cheesecake than a flan, which was riveting under the lively berries.

With the abundance of marvelous Italian restaurants in New York, Spasso presents itself more to me as a superb neighborhood option rather than a destination, although some of its dishes really do shine.  It boasts typical New York prices that are maybe not quite supported by its very relaxed and casual service... illustrated best, I think, by our skimpy pour.  But I can't really find anything specific to fault here either, and there is a lightness and effervescence in the cuisine and the atmophere here, that might leave you in fine form, perhaps, to go a spasso for post-prandial tour of the vibrant West Village.   

551 Hudson Street
tel.  212.858.3838

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