Note: This is a review under chef Alex Stratta, who left the restaurant in March 2012 after Eater.com put the restaurant on “deathwatch.” In a rare admission, the owners actually thanked Eater for getting deathwatched: “It got our butts in gear and forced us to make changes more quickly.
But Deathwatch is not escaped so easily. The restaurant closed in October 2012.
Stratta trained with Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud, and his first few restaurants were in the elaborate French mold: Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Renoir at the Mirage in Las Vegas, and Alex at the Wynn (since closed), which earned two Michelin stars. He followed that up with an Italian place, Stratta, also at the Wynn, with which he is no longer involved.
Bigoli is a serious, comfortable, and mostly enjoyable restaurant. It’s also a little disappointing.
Stratta told The Times that he “didn’t want to do fancy any more.” You can hardly blame him: the city’s critics are skeptical of fancy restaurants, and they usually hate imported chefs. A Michelin multi-star concept transplanted from Vegas would practically be begging to get panned, no matter how good it was.
But “unfancy” Italian is the most over-represented cuisine in New York City. Does Stratta have a point of view? The opening menu is completely anonymous. If I stripped off the logo and showed it to a dozen food-savvy New Yorkers, none would guess where it came from. No dish would leap off the page: “Oh my, who’s serving that?” You’ve seen it all before.
The only possibility Bigoli allows at the moment, is to prepare the food well, at a fair price, in a comfortable space. That it mostly does, but so do many of its competitors. Antipasti are $9–15, pastas $19–25, entrées $23–49. Except for the obligatory prime ribeye and rack of lamb, all the entres are under $30. A wood-burning oven features prominently in an open kitchen, but the current menu gives no indication of which dishes actually use that oven—not that this feature is at all unique these days.
The meal opens with a helping of thick bread, a pesto dipping sauce, and a selection of olives. A Burrata appetizer ($15; above right) was rather an odd grab bag, with a lonely eggplant crostino, a thin slice of prosciutto, and a few salad greens.
As my girlfriend noted, when you put Seared Sea Scallops ($28; above left) on the same plate with roasted cauliflower, pine nuts, raisins, and brown butter, good things are bound to happen. I could do without the schmear of what looks like baby food on the right side of the plate, but the taste I had of the scallops was excellent.
Braised meats are likewise sure-fire—here, Tuscan Veal ($26; above right) with tomatoes, Swiss chard and chickpeas.
The wine list is a starter set. The Torcicoda Primitivo 2004 seemed like a good buy at $50, but the server returned with a bottle of the 2009 and had no idea that it wasn’t what I ordered.
After I pointed this out, his absurd retort was: “Don’t worry. It’s fresher that way,” apparently unaware of the principle that older bottles are usually more desirable.
A manager appeared and offered to take the bottle back if I didn’t like it. It was decent enough for a 2009 (still priced at $50), and I kept it, though it’s not the bottle I would have chosen had it been listed as a 2009 on the printed list.
Aside from that, the service was friendly and attentive, but the food took quite a while to come out, even though it was not busy on a Wednesday evening. The restaurant is only a month old, and I suspect it will get better, but there is some work to do.
Bigoli occupies an historic townhouse on a West Village side street. Eater.com commenters hated the décor, but we rather liked it: I don’t think the photos do it justice. The banquettes are comfortable, and the tables don’t seem as tightly packed as they often are at such places.
The chef told The Times, “we’re coming here with an incredible level of humility. New Yorkers really know food but I’m hoping they’ll be kind and patient.” Unfortunately, New Yorkers aren’t known for patience. If Stratta has bigger and bolder ideas for the cuisine, I can’t imagine what he’s waiting for.
We found Bigoli comfortable and pleasant, and if the entrées weren’t especially memorable, they were at least well made. For that, I would go back again. But I think the chef needs to do more to make Bigoli stand out from the mine run of good Italian restaurants, of which the city has no shortage.
Bigoli (140 W. 13th Street between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Village)