Wednesday, April 16, 2014


There is nothing vague about all'onda, despite this being the literal translation of the phrase.  More befittingly, onda means "wave", and on the rain-saturated evening on which I visited, the watery theme carried throughout the evening.  A Venetian influence is All'onda's focus, but I wouldn't have felt ethnically shortchanged had any of what we tried showed up in any manner of seafood-centric restaurants, especially with the winks of Japanese popping up throughout the menu.

After checking soggy umbrellas, we were ushered upstairs to a simply designed room, featuring subtle nautical elements, but nothing too contrived.  Two-top tables alternated slate finishes with wooden ones, and the larger tables featured booth seating with neat, grey-blue back cushions that were suspended from an elongated rod alongside the wall.  Floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the West Village sidestreet, and despite the murky sky, the dining room benefitted from set of sun, where the room took on a shadowy, seductive allure, now the black-and-white photograph of an undulating pool making more sense, the curly willow
 branches casting interesting shadows from their perch.  The waitstaff could use some spriffing up to this sensibility: they are too casual in both demeanor and affect.  Comfortable shoes, I know, are requisite in this line of work, but psychedelic iridescent hightops and sloppy gym sneakers are unacceptable, detracting from the subtle elegance of the decor and cuisine.  It was surprising, especially given restaurateur Chris Cannon's involvement, a master of fine service and hospitality.  Our waiter was pleasant enough upon engagement, yet offered few unsolicited congenialities.  He did provide a wine list, handsomely bound in a lightweight, flexible wood cover, which offered a great variety in provenance, varietal and pricepoints, with helpful, thoughtful, if a little too-clever descriptions.  Glasses could be had for $8 (dubbed "quaffable") on up to $19.

And of course, the food menus, so full of temptations its a wonder the flimsy binders could constrain all its temptations.  Beginning with cicchetti, an assortment of bites and snacks ranging from olives and nuts to polenta chips with a whipped cod puree, a tweak of the Venetian classic.   We took the carrots from antipasti e crudi, which included both raw and cooked vegetable and seafood, for the most part.  The carrots, for their part, weren't categorically Italian at all, nor Japanese,  but that should not detract from their magnificence.   Roasted carrots with yogurt seem to be the vegetable darling of the moment,
and these lived up to the mania.  Cumin-spiced and burnished to tender sweetness, their untrimmed ends rendered chewy as dried fruit, with a sweetness nearly as intense.  The crisped fronds atop attained an ashy smokiness, which countered sweet, steamed ribbons and pure, creamy slather of whipped ricotta below.  A drizzle of spicy-sweet ginger vinaigrette completed the masterpiece, both visually gorgeous and supremely good.  Easily big and flavorful enough to share, if you can stand to.

Pastas reflect Chris Jaeckle's pedigree: he is a Michael White alum,
 and this comes through profoundly in the vast array of housemade noodles.    A fragrant tortellini in brodo
 sold itself on its perfume alone, an intensely heady broth, clear but deeply bronzed, afloat with buxom pouches of plump tortelli.  
 Thick bucatini furled amongst themselves in a unctuous sauce rich with uni, dusted with a coat of spicy bread crumbs.  Each looked better than the next.

Onto secondi: it was hard to deny myself the  braised short ribs for two, a lusty slab lacquered in in thick tomato mostarda, so dark and dense it looked like a humongous piece of chocolate cake.  But with just the two of us, the shareable dish would've been limiting.  Instead, a monkfish filet enjoyed a similarly glossy patina, its ebony derived from luscious squid ink, black as the plate upon which is was served,  in contrast to its snowy flesh and pale, golden bed of nubby polenta.    Skate got sauced, too (I get why I loved this place), graced with a bold, savory veal reduction, which masked it every-so-slightly fishy

 flavor, atypical when this species is at its freshest.  But it was subtle, and forgivable, given all the other wonderful things going on on this plate, from the tender jujubes of sweet beets and pillowy, miniature semolina dumplings, to the surprise cameo performed by crisped, feathery maitake mushrooms.    With these, menu fulfilled my Four-fecta of Favorite Ingredients : brussels sprouts, skate, beets and mushrooms.  I couldn't have been more pleased.

Ah, because yes.   I had not yet mentioned the brussels sprouts, which showed up suspiciously verdant... so much so that I feared that unsettling bitter crunch of a raw epicenter.  Much to my relief, the color was deceiving, as the quartered sprouts were cooked well through, nutty both themselves and their topping of roasted pistachios, enriched with saucy cider vinegar touched of honey and subtle nudge of curry.  The broth that remained below them would regally have anointed any remnants of the deliciously crusty bread, had there been any left in the basket.   Jersusalem artichokes shared their splendor, again doubly nutty- this time their own earthy flavor paired with a braise of brown butter punched with the umami of soy and capers.  Jaeckle has mastered umami, whispering it from every possible source and using it to the best advantage.

Dessert exists, but deterred by Pete Wells, we opted against the sort of mundane-sounding selection of gelatos, an affogato, a chocolate tart.  The only intriguing one was the fernet branca panna cotta, but well... we had been forewarned.  Instead, we opted for one of their fine teas- a whole pot was even a lot to imbibe after such a filling repast.  But it was a lovely mint-tinged infusion, and I'm not one to waste. So we ventured out into the soggy evening, the rains having subsided, but the cool dampness felt now like a comforting onda carrying us out with contented bellies. 

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