Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 952 : L'Apicio

Located in the old Bowery Wine Company's space is executive chef, Gabe Thompson's, and beverage director, Joe Campanale's, first venture out of the West Village. Named after L'Apicio Moderno, the 18th century cookbook where the use of tomato sauce paired with pasta first appeared, this modern Italian joint pays homage to the 21st century interpretation of such cuisine by the guys behind dell'anima, L'Artusi, and Anfora.

Unlike their other restaurants that boast smaller, more intimate spaces, L'Apicio can accomodate up to 180 diners at a time. But at no time, does it feel like a big box, overwhelmingly large space. Sleek yet rustic, it is lively with a warm and inviting feel. Whether you are seated at the bar, one of the high top tables in the bar space or at a table / booth in one of the main dining areas, you will no doubt be able to enjoy the selection of cocktails and beers along with the extensive wine list with an Italian focus of course, but with a wide selection of American and other wines as well. And what of the food?

Modern Italian with a creative flair. The menu features a range of salads, appetizers, pastas, polentas, mains and contorni. There's homemade ricotta, which is a must along a nice cheese selection featuring a melange of American and Italian offerings.

So what to have?

The Escarole Salad with Pecorino-Buttermilk dressing, almonds and cucumber is delightful with a nice balance of creamy roundness, nutty crunch, and light vegetal notes from the greens. Other highlights in terms of the salad selections include the Watercress salad with carrots, cumin yogurt, and pistachios. This rustic and earthy salad bursts with flavor -- the sweetness of the carrots, the tang and spice of the cumin yogurt, the bright pepperiness of the watercress and the sweet nuttiness of the pistachios is an excellent beginning to the meal. Feel like going with a more traditional salad pairing then have the Bosc Pear, with radicchio, blue cheese, and hazelnuts.

Not in the salad mood to start your meal then have the charred octopus with fregola and lemon, hold the  pepperoni for me. As most of my Fromagical readers know - my eyes light up and gravitate to octopus and brussels sprouts on a menu and this dish truly allows the flavor of the charred octopus to shine.

Moving away from the salads and starters to the heartier selections on the menu -- the selection of Polenta alla Spianatora is a must. Whether it is topped with roasted mushrooms, shrimp, braised short ribs or pork meatballs, Thompson surely knows what he is doing with this classic Italian cornmeal dish.

If pasta is what you're in the mood for then definitely order the Mezzaluna with cauliflower, capers and pinenuts. These half moon pillows of rustic cheesy goodness are the perfect balance of briny brightness from the capers and warm earthy nuttiness from the pinenuts. They just melt in your mouth.

The contorni highlight the season's vegetable bounty -- whether its Delicata squash or sunchokes or brussels sprouts, each is prepared simply in the hopes of highlighting the true flavors of the vegetable.

Overall, L'Apicio is a big step for Thompson and Campanale, not just out of the West Village but in terms of restaurant scale. It's a fun and lively spot that is quintessentially downtown with a lovely wine and cocktail list and an inventive Modern Italian menu.

13 East 1st street

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