The restaurants (Anfora is technically a wine bar) have distinctive personalities, but Thompson’s solid rustic Italian cuisine and Campanale’s compelling wine lists knit the three projects together.
Two of them are on the same block, and the third is just five minutes away, but somehow they haven’t over-saturated the market: dell’anima, the most established of the three, is perpetually packed, and Anfora is quickly getting there. L’Artusi moved a bit more slowly out of the gate (an unfavorable one-spot from Frank Bruni cannot have helped), but by 9:00 p.m. last Friday night it was full.
Like dell’anima, L’Artusi has plenty of seats for bar dining, but the space is more than twice the size, and not quite as charming. As it filled up, we found the noise increasingly unpleasant, as sound ricocheted off of the room’s hard surfaces. By the time we left, a normal conversation was almost impossible.
At all three Thompson/Campanale places, there is not a hint of attitude, as could easily be the case for a clutch of restaurants this successful. The host offered to seat me alone. I chose to wait at the bar, and later the tab was transferred to the table without my asking. Our server, however, tried to upsell an unwanted side dish, and was a bit inattentive as the evening went on.
The menu is in six categories: crudi, vegetable starters, pastas, fish, meats, and side dishes. Pastas dominate, with nine choices. There are half-a-dozen or fewer entries under the other headings. Most starters are under $15, pastas under $20, and entrées generally under $25.
Campanale’s wine list is remarkable for its length and variety. He’s not the first to put each region of Italy on its own page, and with its own map, but he may be the first to include separate maps showing the location of each producer. Presented in a thick red leather volume, it is one of the prettiest wine lists in town.
As he does at his other places, Campanale offers wines all over the price spectrum, including bottles with age on them that don’t cost half a paycheck, such as the 1995 Cerbaiona Rosso ($58; above right) that we had.
Escolar ($14; above left) from the crudo menu was draped with avocado, basil, and chilies. There is always a danger that such assertive ingredients will overwhelm the fish, but that didn’t happen here. The flavors were bright, crisp, and in balance. We followed that with octopus ($15; above right) that was perhaps as tender as we have ever encountered.
By the way, we had that octopus as an appetizer, but it is listed on the fish section of the menu, where most of the items are entrées. The server sent everything out in the right order, but I have to think some diners have been led astray.
I don’t know how the house-made tagliatelle bolognese bianco ($18; above left) was prepared, but the richly-flavored, flat noodles were in double layers—green one one side, white on the other: a wonderful dish. I wouldn’t call the Dayboat Halibut ($28; above right) a dud, but I found the tomato sauce a shade too assertive, especially for so delicate a fish.
Messrs. Thompson and Campanale have found their niche in a series of casual places, where the food and wine lists are superior to the surroundings. Part of me wants to see them ply their craft on a grander stage. Perhaps that’s not what they aspire to—never mind whether this is the right economic climate in which to try. The restaurants they’ve built are so welcoming, the food and libations so well thought out, that I tolerate their occasional discomforts.
L’Artusi (228 W. 10th Street between Bleecker & Hudson Streets, West Village)