Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Claudette led me to La Pecora Bianca, the newest addition to the team which also oversees Rosemary's and Bobo, as well as a lot of buzzy press, stemming from restaurateur Mark Barak's myriad current successes.  La Pecora Bianca (the white sheep) is an attractively bright spot on a dingy corner of the Flatiron District on Broadway.  Despite all the recent openings and noteworthy establishments nearby, that area of town continues to exude a gritty feel.  L.P.B. performs a bit as a beacon, it's big storefront windows emitting a welcome glow onto the scruffy sidewalks, and inside is just as airy and radiant.

It shows its chops at times as a brand-newcomer: we got our waiter's name (unnecessary) and a full tutorial on how the (very straight-forward) menu should be approached.  But all this is done with a palpable affability, making it hard really fault them.  The cuisine, too, seems a little less accomplished than its brethren, but maybe Chef Simone Bonelli, freshly yanked from Italy, is still working out some of the kinks.  Without much New York experience, he does have an admirable track record in Italy.   But here the cuisine is modernized, and there are a few minor snafus to iron out if L.P.B. is to achieve the accolades I've bequeathed some its family member.

We began our meal with one of the dishes that, by its press reputation alone, attracted me here in the first place: a whole roasted golden enoki mushroom littered with raisins, and pleasantly crunchy croutons.  The salsa verde beneath could've used a lot more punch, from salt, or acid- or both- and the raisins were overabundant.  The mushroom itself, with the addition of a spritz of salt (grinders for that and pepper are conveniently a table, and you may put them to use), was a novelty, and tasty if you could get over its tendency to sort of infiltrate its way irrevocably between your teeth.  They were a little stringier and more cartilaginous than past enokis I have encountered, which I recall being much cooperatively tender.  I liked this dish on paper more than in person, but I wasn't categorically disappointed; I like a big mushroom, and it was a lot of funghi, so for me that's never a bad thing.  A salad of finely shredded Tuscan kale was similarly voluminous,
 and fresher tasting than its description might imply.  It was tossed with a lot of substantial elements: sweet, softly roasted chunks of butternut squash, sheep's milk ricotta, toasted pepitas and cheesy bread crumbs, but a gently applied lemon citronette kept things from bulking up.

Primi comprised itself of some innovative pastas, novel shapes made from local and organic grains like einkorn, emmer and red fife wheat.  Certainly Dan Barber would approve of the initiative, and generous portions with substantial saucings like a housemade Italian sausage and broccolini or a fennel pesto with bottarga and pistachios more than justified their twenty-dollar-ish prices.

From the Secondi, seared Capesante provided three fat scallops, magnificently buttery and plush, with a nice, salty bronze crust atop.  They sat atop a creamy puree dotted with nubs of cauliflower and lima beans, chewy bits of diced chorizo interspersed, but not entirely coalescing with one another.    And I'm not sure what the pomegranate seeds were doing in there, but they didn't harm nor help.  A filet of wild striped bass was served atop a plate slathered in a lusty
 romesco, flanked with a torpedo of grilled endive, pleasantly bitter against a sweet dice of steamed apples piled atop.  Like the pomegranate seeds, the olives plonked along the periphery didn't seem to have a lot to do with its platemates, but at least they were listed on the menu.   From the trio of Contorni, which included charred rainbow carrots with labne and coriander, and crushed fingerlings also with labne, we chose the only un-labned and most
 Italian-y choice, rings of
salt-baked Vidalia onions with balsamic and sage, thin flakes of sharp parmigiano perched delicately on their edges.  A bowl of onions might seem a somewhat unconventional side, but these were quite delectable, and La Pecora certainly does not restrain itself by conventions. 

As for dessert, the good things here, too, present themselves in threes.  Torn between a lavender panna cotta and a chocolate mousse (there was also a ricotta cheescake), I (for once) conceded to my tablemate in favor of chocolate.  And the mousse, in this respect, did not disappoint.  It was rigorously fudgy, and the mixed berries (barely plural, in actuality) only populated the top inch of the pudding, leaving the remaining three quarters to sing a single-note melody with an occasional interlude of crunchy pistachio crumb.   A post-prandial decaf alongside,  however, improved everything.  A proprietary blend from Toby's Estate, the coffee was remarkably smooth, pairing winningly with the rich chocolate.  On the other hand, it precipitated a second visit to the restrooms, which not only require a trip downstairs, but as two gated unisex stalls that open into a common hand-washing area, the itself is wide open to the bottom of the staircase and the subterranean prep kitchen, there is a noticeable lack of privacy.  I reapplied my lipstick next to a pudgy guy wearing shorts and socks.  Otherwise, the charming decoration from upstairs continues down below, with the sage and white wallpaper printed with illustrated sheep and small bouquets of humble flowers.    In fact, the overall appeal of the restaurant compensates most of the missteps, and along with it still feeling a little like a youngster, I hope La Pecora Bianca will behave like a sheep's milk cheese does- a strong foundation improving with age.

1133 Broadway @ 26th Street    
tel.  1.212.498.9696

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