Note: Barchetta closed in July 2015, after one year in business. This space has been home to one cursed restaurant after another (Bette, La Promenade des Anglais). There is no logical reason why the location should repeatedly fail—but it has. It will be interesting to see who is the next operator willing to take a chance there.
These days, the usual career path of successful chefs is to open a second restaurant, and then a third; in fact, to keep going until the public says “Enough already!” And sometimes even past that. See the dictionary entry under “English, Todd”.
Not so, David Pasternack. Despite the accolades rained upon his Hell’s Kitchen Italian seafood restaurant Esca, the chef has been surprisingy slow-footed about growing his personal brand. Aside from the short-lived Bistro du Vent (2005–06), Pasternack has resisted expansion in New York. (I don’t know for sure, but you’d have to think there’ve been offers before now.)
Pasternack finally got the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse, partnering with LDV Hospitality (Scarpetta, American Cut) to open Barchetta (“little boat”) in the space that was last home to Alain Allegretti’s La Promenade des Anglais. This site has had trouble holding onto restaurants. Located in West Chelsea, close to Tenth Avenue, it is not convenient to mass transit. It needs to make a passionate case for our attention.
The immediate impression is that this is a cheaper and more casual version of Esca: an Esca without tablecloths. At the flagship, you won’t find an entrée for less than $30; here, they hover mostly in the $20s. Servings of crudo, the Italianesque sashimi that Pasternack introduced to New York, are similar to those served at Esca, but a couple of dollars less. You can order spaghetti with lobster at Esca for $30, or fettucine with lobster at Barchetta for $28.
Barchetta is certainly worth a visit if you’re a fan of offbeat Italian wines. The full list doesn’t seem to be online at the moment, but I recall a solid, medium-length selection with a lot of unfamiliar choices. I gave the sommelier a $60 ceiling and asked for a light red that would pair well with fish. He returned with a 2012 I Custodi ‘Pistus’ for $56 (about 2½ times the local retail price) that fit the bill perfectly, and which he decanted. (I have to add that we were recognized; I don’t know whether they’d decant that wine for everyone.)
There’s a wide selection of crudi, but the best choice is the tasting ($28; above), sent out in two flights (the kitchen comped an extra piece, shown at the far right). I didn’t take note of the fish species, but if you love the crudi at Esca (and I know that some do not), you’ll love these.
The ravioli ($22; above left) were fine, but didn’t make a distinct impression. You don’t see squalo (shark) on New York menus very often, and in fact the current online menu no longer offers it. This version ($26; above right) was blasted on the grill to a satisfying char, although the fish itself was somewhat shy on flavor.
We finished with the sfogliatelle ($14; left), an Italian shell-like pastry with the consistency of a croissant, bedecked with apples.
The Post’s Steve Cuozzo awarded just 1½ stars to Barchetta, finding careless execution among the occasional hit. But Frank Bruni on Twitter, who no longer gives stars, called it “amazing” and “astounding,” adding that “Dave Pasternack is killing it at this restaurant.”
Our view lies somewhere in between, somewhat closer to Bruni’s, with the caveat that we’re still in the review period, and Pasternack is working the room most evenings. Will Barchetta be great after it no longer has his full attention? Does the restaurant have a reason to exist, beyond being a silghtly watered-down version of Esca? Answers to those questions will take a while to shake out.
We were well treated here (and also recognized). If Pasternack keeps up the quality of the food in the months and years ahead, Barchetta could be a valid alternative for those who want an Esca-lite experience without the tablecloths. If not, Barchetta could be one of those restaurants that holds the public’s attention but briefly, before the fireflies move onto the next bright thing.
Barchetta (461 W. 23rd Street, east of Tenth Avenue, Chelsea)
Food: Italian seafood, with an emphasis on crudo
Service: Attentive and enjoyable
Ambiance: Esca without tablecloths; an engergetic but not excessively loud room