Our server, however, was en pointe: chipper and attentive. We were offered house sparkling or still water immediately, and our orders taken in an unforced but timely manner. We took her up on the bread that was offered but not automatically dispersed on the table. I think this is a pretty good thing- for carbophobes, people with actual allergies, tempted dieters, or just those whoe don't need extra starch. It's less wasteful. That said, all of ours got devoured: thick, chewy slices with a faint sour and heavy, rustic crust.
The "Mercato" section of the menu featured a bounty of orchard-y treats, but those we chose read better on the menu than they were plated. Beets, already sweet, had a sugary plum glaze and shreds of crisp raw fennel dusted with a little too much gritty black pepper. Turnips, which I erroneously assumed would be roasted, were instead raw, fanned out beneath a shroud of robust pecorino grated with a heavy hand. The mature turnips had a distinct bitterness which led to a powerful flavor rivalry between them, the cheese and a virile classic pesto. I actually liked
a bit of the cheese on the beets, and some crisp fennel to moderate the impact of the turnips, but with the very seasonal, rapidly changing menu, you might have to come up with your own adaptations.
The Pizzas (made with New York state flour) have there own section, and the versions on the table next to us were deliciously fragrant. The preparations riff on traditional without going too out-there: a little thyme and chili atop a pie with soppressata and a white pie tinged green with zucchini and green chiles. And while our neighbors tackles a pie apiece, one could easily be shared for a hearty dinner with a Mercato, Contorni or Antipasto side. Entrees are similarly generous. A big hunk of poached cod was delightfully flaky and flavorful, perched atop a bed of tasty kale and cannellini beans, but the beans were woefully undercooked, giving them a powdery, crumbly quality and didn't allow their starches to properly thicken the broth beneath, which ended up too watery and thin. While the fish itself was perfection, its underlings needed a little more time to catch up. Now, for the flank steak we requested it rare, and they made good on that... I'm sure I heard a little mooing when the bushel of cress and peppy, harissa-spiked green
beans were toppled aside. The exterior had a perfect, smoky-spiced char, and inside was quite possibly the textbook definition of rare.... too much for my tastes, but my tablemate gobbled it down excitedly. This was good, because it allowed me to steal a few more of the green beans than I otherwise might have been able to: they were stellar- smoky and spicy. Just for fun, we tried the eggplant and peppers from Contorni. From what I could tell, any of the Contorni, Mercato and Antipasti could be interchangeable. Antipasti are more varied and pricey while the other two are primarly vegetable-if-not-vegetarian, but there is definitely overlap. The
eggplant was slick and steamy, doing that thing that eggplant does so well, sopping up oil and flavor and using it to its best advantage. The peppers exhibited unpredictable amounts of heat, the spicier of which made good use of chewy, oily croutons to tamp their intermittent fire.
Dessert was definitely a high point. We were undecided among the choices, and while my dining companion was jonesing for the rich gianduja tart or chocolate-sauced ricotta bomboloni, our waitress sided with me on the honey semifreddo, much to my delight. And with the size of it, she might as well've sat down and helped up finish it, because it's easily shareable for two and then some. Inarguably luscious, though, it combines the simple elegance of the creamy semifreddo with the honey-almond croccante, achieving the homey nostalgia of toasted marshmallow, but impossibly cool and creamy.
Another highlight were, amusingly, the restrooms: the stall doors are white-washed shutters, the men's room walls painted in striking red with zebras, the ladies' the immersive peachy-pink of undulating flamingos. It's a playful, thoughtful attention to detail that might be a little lacking in the menu itself. But the thought is there in all aspects, and on many levels, that's a lot of what counts.
31 Great Jones Street