Note: Chef Craig Wallen left Spasso in February 2013. Ed Carew replaced him.
There’s a bit of Italian fatigue in the city right now, no question about it. Perhaps the glut of new high-end Italian places in late 2010 pushed Spasso, which opened Christmas week, right off the radar.
But on the strength of one visit, albeit solo, Spasso punches well above its weight class. All three of the items I tried resembled familiar dishes, but none were slavish copies of those found elsewhere. All were prepared with flair and technical precision.
This comes as no surprise, when you consider the talent behind Spasso. The chef, Craig Wallen, was previously chef de cuisine at Convivio and L’Impero, and worked at Gramercy Tavern and Lupa. The co-owner and partner, Bobby Werhane, was at Dell’anima, L’Artusi, and Choptank. That’s an impressive resume (ok, maybe not Choptank).
This food could have found a home at the Michelin-starred and recently closed Convivio, where Chris Cannon would have charged more, for portions half the size. Antipasti are $8–15, pastas $15–20, entrées $22–29, side dishes $8.
House-made Stracciatella ($9; left), or stretched mozzarella in olive oil, was like a cold cheese soup, with ribbons of cheese resembling tagliatelle. You spread it on the grilled bread provided, or just eat it with a fork, as if it were the pasta course.
Charred Octopus ($15; above left) was tender and smokey, and nicely complemented by cucumbers, yogurt, and mint. Beautiful orechiette ($19; above right) joined forces with rock shrimp and crab meat, with bread crumbs adding a satisfying crunch. It was a crime to leave half of it behind, but I’d overdone it on the first two courses.
Wines by the glass were a bargain too, with real choices having a few years of age on them, and none over $13.
The space is casual, but the tables have tablecloths, and the service is more polished than it needs to be. Most people seated at either of the two separate bars (one of them near an open kitchen), are there to eat, the places already set with that in mind. Even on a Sunday evening, the space was bustling.
There is much more to Spasso, but if the rest of the menu is as good as this, I can’t wait to try more of it.
Spasso (551 Hudson Street at Perry Street, West Village)