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Perbacco was a routine East Village trattoria until last year, when Simone Bonelli took over as chef, and immediately started turning out creative riffs on Italian specialties. Frank Bruni awarded two stars, as he so often does. We wound up there on Friday evening after another reservation fell through. Business was brisk, but you no longer need to book a week in advance. Our 7:15 p.m. table was available on OpenTable the same afternoon.

I was seated promptly before my girlfriend arrived, but couldn’t flag down a server to order a cocktail. I couldn’t figure out why they assigned us to a tall bar table with backless stools, when many seats in the more comfortable dining room were still empty. I didn’t say anything, but after we’d ordered, they decided it was a mistake and moved us to a better table.

The menu goes on for several pages and is heavy on the antipasti and salads ($9–15). There are about half-a-dozen pastas ($13–18) and an equal number of secondi ($21–25). These prices are reasonable for the quality of the food.

After pondering our choices for a while, we decided to start with the deep-fried olives stuffed with minced meats ($9). Oops! The menu is in transition, and a couple of dishes, including that one, aren’t available yet. In lieu of that, we had the mixed antipasti ($15; below left), all excellent, of which the best was a quartet of onion gelatin ravioli served in a jar of balsamic vinegar. These delicate, quivering globules are swallowed whole, exploding in the mouth with an astonishing burst of flavor. I’d pay $15 again just for those.

The Rosette alla Speck e Bufala ($18; above right) was another remarkable creation—an orb of pasta noodles that collapses to the touch, revealing a cheesy stew of speck and bufala mozzarella.

The aged porterhouse for two ($60; above) won’t put Peter Luger out of business, but it was excellent for a non-steakhouse. Perbacco charges considerably less for it than a steakhouse would, and throws in the sides for nothing.

The service, especially early on, wasn’t quite up to the quality of Chef Bonelli’s kitchen, but it improved as the evening went on. The faux rustic space is easy on the eyes, and the food is surprisingly good.

Perbacco (234 E. 4th Street between Avenues A & B, East Village)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½

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