Our chef at Casa Apicii arrives to us from Los Angeles. Casey Lane's cooking isn't particularly Italian as far as pastas and burrata have become fairly ubiquitous menu items, but his execution is on point. In the space that formerly housed The Lion, Casa Apicii has lightened and brightened the venue, and from what I can discern, improved the culinary options substantially. He wasn't in the night of my visit... apparently he rarely is, spending more time at his Tasting Kitchen in L.A., but our servers were attentive and friendly, so I felt in good hands. And whoever he has trained in the kitchen is deftly holding up the bar.
It was a little sketchy that none of the notable figures highlighted on the website were actually still a part of the organization, aside from Lane, but I didn't see any immediate negative effects, so I suppose I shouldn't be preoccupied (that said, these things should be kept up to date, especially in a digital world). The name derives from the Latin Apicius, a collection of Roman cookery, long associated with the love of food, and the lofty, airy dining room's simplicity leaves the focus on just that. There are some spectacular chandeliers, however, and a elegantly monochromatic color scheme of pale ivories that lend a classy touch. The menu is pointedly Italian; it is behooving to have at least a minimal grasp of the language for ordering purposes, or to be dining with someone who does. I fall into the former camp, and that knowledge was extremely useful to my dining companions (even if I did incorrectly describe paccheri as a filled pasta OOPS. Yeah. It's like a big rigatoni, for the
record.). I DO know what strozzapreti are, though (priest-stranglers: always a crowd-pleaser), which here are sauced in a classic bolognese. The pastas are main-course sized, though, not primi as on a traditional Italian menu. So before we got there, we shared a plate of meatballs in sort of a topsy-turvy sequence. Not sure how they really decide what should be antipasti vs. secondo (sic) (which should be secondi) especially since these polpettine came four to an order, and were big ones at that. For the pork, beef and veal combination that compromised them, the sauce was the most flavorful component. Maybe better off with another starter, like the calamari or if you're in the mood for cheese, burrata or straciatella should fit the bill.
But then back to those pastas, the noodles of which are splendid, regardless their form. Bucatini (my favorite shape) al'amatriciana were just the right amount of spicy to perk up those long, toothsome hollow tubes. Tagliatelle were more sauced more delicately with a light, creamy cheese, tossed with English peas and a ruffle of
salty prosciutto. But my favorite overall was the fettuccine tangled with fresh shrimp, some zippy chiles and a spritz of buttery breadcrumbs. But regardless, the pastas are a strong suit, although the secondi don't play second fiddle. Menus items change really frequently, and the halibut that I ordered not only has been swapped out to a Dover Sole, I also forgot to photograph it nor remember much of it in detail, so we're just gonna mention that I recall it was quite delicious, and sizable enough I had a bit leftover... which was good, because Apicii's prices are fairly steep, and the pastas are pretty expensive for their size. They could be, in fact, primi in terms of portion, but their price tags ($22-$28) do command entree consideration.
I was thrilled to see Brussels sprouts still on the menu despite their inarguable unseasonality, and they were good- well, correction: some of them were. Because they were cut up very irregularly, the the biggest halves were perfectly cooked but the smaller bits got overcooked to decimation and swallowed up in too much in the
lemony bagna cauda. Some fresh snow peas made good partners with sautéed shiitakes and were probably the most successful, but mostly just a two delicious separate entities with not a lot to draw
the two together besides a natural affinity. They were pleasant nonetheless. The broccolini alla piastra spent either too much or too little time on that piastra, or wasn't properly trimmed, rendering it quite tough, something the heavy dusting of lemony breadcrumbs didn't help mask.
Desserts by pastry chef Suji Grant are quite attractively described, a citrusy mascarpone panna cotta with caramelized almonds piqued my interest, but the bill had already reach rather elevated proportions and none of my other tablemates seemed into it. And at twelve dollars I suppose it was a consideration. But what bothered me most was the menu title : Dolce Piatti. In Italian, the adjective goes after the noun, and there must be agreement between the two in gender and quantity, neither of which are correct in this phrase. Nitpicking this would be, had the rest of the meal been superlative. Instead, I feel like it's mini-indication of carelessness: the chef is not on-site, the Italianness isn't quite assertive enough, the service wasn't engaging, and the empty-ish room and sort of lack of energy left no motivation for a return. It just didn't feel special, and it was too expensive not to. I don't discourage giving it a shot, especially if it's convenient, but I guess the dining room sparse population was understandable. New York's bar is high, and this just doesn't quite make it.