Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Every review I've seen thus far about Major Food Groups newest addition to the family has begun with mention of the Insta-summer sensation attainted as soon as you step inside Santina, escaping this year's endless winter.   So it might be redundant to do the same, but the contrast is so striking: literally, we passed through a glass door from intermittent flurries of snow to the palpably celebratory atmosphere of Santina, staff clad in a floral print dresses and white oxford shirts with turquoise trousers.  Palm trees fan out to buffer the geometric modernist architecture of room, designed by Renzo Piano.  But another
 contrasting element might catch your attention first: wildly whimsical Murano glass chandeliers dominate the decor, sporting vibrant glowing sunflowers, pastel orchids and pink pineapples sprouting from arching limbs of faceted glass.  These are truly the focal point of the restaurant... or are, at least, until the menus arrive.

These menus are bewitching, initially, to say the least.  Jubilantly printed a bright summery hues, the mystery of their listings might go temporarily unnoticed.  But without a proper q&a with your server, the tuna carpaccio in the Tricolore salad could come unwelcomely,  and what is in a pasta alla Norma, again, please?  Okay, so I knew these two, but not everyone can be expected to.  In fact, we felt as though we attained a few extra points on our virtual SAT scores (Santina Aptitude Test) when we deduced that under the Rice + Pasta heading, that the first three listings were the add-ins to savory pilaf-style dishes, and the remainder were the pastas.  These are main dishes.  None of this is necessarily clear at first glance however, so it's best to ask your server about everything, even if it would seem obvious, because curves are rife throughout.  I mean, a Tricolore Salad listed simply as such, apparently includes tuna carpaccio, which could be a potentially undesirable addition for multiple reasons, depending on the diner (although it has been receiving accolades).  Plus, they are used to it, so much so so that I'm not sure they will eventually change this enigmatic format (though I think it would behoove them to do so).  Time will tell.  Until then, about those rice dishes: they might be prepared in a pilafy manner for a reason,  to act as sponges for the saucy quality many of the dishes we tried exhibited.  There is no bread provided nor on offer, so all those brothy juices might potentially go to waste.  So it was with the Bass
 Agrigento, colorful and flavorful in an abundant sautee of sweet peppers, but the delicate fish suffered a bit from the wateriness of the brothy juices below.  Perhaps swapping it out with a richer fish- say, the Swordfish Dogana, which for its own sake was bedded in hearty white beans.  Pairing the bass with a less aqueous bedfellow, and the sturdier swordfish providing the peperonata with a sounder base.  (Just a thought.)  Both are still successful options, however, as Chef Mario Carbone intended them.

Prior to that, and perhaps stronger than the entrees, come Cecina (bites) and appetizers, which fall under the guise of Fish + Vegetables (not sure what they'll do if  Mario ever wants to introduce a meaty h'ors d'oeuvre into the mix).  
Beets Siciliana strike a laudable balance with the contrasting seasonality inside and out, perking up sugar-dense, hearty beets with bright citrus and a thick, pistachio-studded yogurt.  We couldn't figure out what the shredded greenery atop was, crisp and mild, but it turned out to be fennel, perhaps marinated or seasoned to some degree which imparted a pleasant, bitter edge that
overrode it's natural sweetness.  Normally, Sicilian preparation connotes a sweet and sour element, which was sort of elevated and  adapted to achieve these beets.   A true crowd-favorite thus far is the Artichokes & Grapes,  which combines meaty braised and crisply fried artichokes with stewed grapes and hazelnuts.  The grapes are cooked soft and winey, the artichokes both nutty and earthy in their two different renditions, a garlicky white dressing enforcing the savoriness of the dish, which does turn out to taste lighter than it's rich ingredient list might imply.

Another of Major's restaurant, Carbone, features a mushrooms sautee so stellar that at each of their subsequent restaurants, I am constitutionally required to order the indigenous version.  Here at Santina, they're a close rival to Carbone's: big, fat oyster mushrooms grilled to a toasty char on the edges and swimming in a pool of herb-flecked oil... perhaps with which I could've done with a little less off, but the fungi themselves were magnificently delicious.

Back to the Rice + Pasta, we selected the signature Chitarra Santina, an surf-and-turf square-cut spaghetti tossed with plump tomatoes and shell-on clams, spicy nuggets of lamb sausage and summery ribbons of zucchini.   Lamb and clams... my brother would be SO proud.  Spaghetti Blue Crab was a close-running second option, maybe slightly influenced by the broken-plate composite mural on the far wall, painted brilliant blue and galvanizing dreams of a seaside voyage to the Amalfi coast.  But at Santina, far as feelings go, you're almost there.