I love Alain Allegretti, but I did not love Promenade des Anglais, so I can't feign much disappointment when Dave Pasternack of Esca fame took over that fickle space just west of London Terrace. What is was before Bette (which was fun) I don't recall, but it has eclipsed through its fare share of owners. Here, now, it seems to be in good hands.
Barchetta is not such a grand departure from Esca, it keeps to the west, it keeps its Italophilic nature, and most of all, it keeps piscine. Barchetta, meaning " small boat" in Italian, is a fairly large restaurant itself. In the daylight, it looks brisk and nautical, but come nightfall, all luster is lost as they seem to have a heavy hand with the dimmer switch. And there's nothing to hide here: it's a beautiful space with lustrous wooden floors and tables, handsome finishing and simple lines. It fancies itself a rustic trattoria, but the interior (and the prices) fancy themselves much more... fancy.
Like Esca, the steep trajectory of the price points can quickly vault you into expense account territory. Pasternack has a knack for sourcing the most immaculately pristine local and sustainable seafood, but this comes at a price. The crudo offerings hover just below the twenty dollar mark, and these are fairly small appetizer portions. But even the produce doesn't escape the dizzying dollar signs: a simple heirloom tomato salad is eighteen dollars, although this wonderously juicy rainbow of varietals quickly distracted from any penny-pinching tendencies. Each fruit performed its own unique tomato profile, visually arresting shades of shocking vermillion, jade green, sunny gold and illicit maroon splayed like modern art underneath a toss of fresh, mild arugula. A modest slick of liquid goat cheese added an
earthy depth and enhanced the fruit's tart, nuanced sweetness. Another appetizer, an evening's special salad featured superbly crunchy fried clams tumbled with peppery greens and a mustardy cream dressing. Bellies and strips alike touted shatteringly crisp coats, but not so heavy as to mask the fat, minerally mollusks within. Charred octopus is a hefty starter, easily big enough to serve as an entree. The fat, furling appendages of the cephalopod are garnished with Tim's peppers, thick, smoked rings of crimson that impart a zesty kick to the spiced-up tentacles. Waxy, dense potatoes are halved oblong underneath, tamping some of the spice and rounding out a repeat-worthy dish.
Primi all feature seafood elements but for the cavatelli with mozzarella and basil. All the others keep the oceanic theme, from subtle shavings of bottarga to hefty chunks of local lobster. Of the eight Secondi, only three are land-based, giving those with weak sea legs options, but the point of Barchetta are the beasts of the sea.
Pasternack likes to extol the whole fish, offering specimens simply roasted with minimalist accoutrements. A whole black sea bass is presented ceremoniously on a scaldingly hot metallic platter, only to be whisked away and fileted (deboned on request), and
redelivered, its snowy white flesh bursting away from its fragile skin. Underneath, a raft of crispy potato slices complete an utterly basic, elemental preparation that couldn't be more simply satisfying and expertly done. It's certainly not revolutionary, but there is a serious exuberance in the simplicity. A rotation of seasonal Contorni are on hand, but on this occasion only one was vegetable, the other more potatoes (of which we had had enough) and another of sweet corn (which I consider a starch). So for true vegetables' sake, the most appealing of the three was the summer squash, described as green and yellow but arriving all yellow (the sprigs of green visible in the photo are shreds of basil). They were well-roasted, simply seasoned, enough for
two. Nothing more to rave about than that, but so is most of the cuisine at Barchetta. It is optimally sourced, supremely fresh and always perfectly cooked. If that isn't enough to whelm you, probably seek out another destination. What you pay for here (and you do pay significantly) is the pureness of product: if you desire the thrill of creativity, find another little boat for your dining voyage.
But before we disembark, one last course beckons: that sweet little arrivederci of dessert. We chose a seasonal crostata del momento, which was peach, and the peach of, this evening. It was a lovely momento to enjoy, the sweet peaches roasted down to a tender chew, with a buttery pastry crust imparting its own caramelized density- each bite putting up just a bit of fight before dissolving like bruleed sugar, a fluffy vanilla bean gelato adding a cool dairy element. This, like most dishes at Barchetta, is nothing that hasn't been done before. But thankfully, Chef Pasternack does it very well, and if your pocketbook can foot it (or fin it) it's well worth the plunge.
461 w 23rd street at 10th avenue