Entries in Massimo Lusardi (2)



I’ve run out of ways to describe enjoyable, inexpensive, faux-rustic Italian restaurants. But there are never enough of them when they’re done well.

Pagani, named for a former music store that once occupied its bright West Village street corner, is done well. You might’ve guessed that if you’ve been to the owners’ other place, the Upper East Side restaurant and wine bar Uva, which we visited a couple of years ago. It has similar charms.

The owners hired Taavo Somer to oversee the décor, which ensured it would be attractive, comfortable and unoriginal. Wisely, they let him nowhere near the food. Mark Barrett, a veteran of Tabla and Babbo (and quite a few other places), runs the kitchen.

The menu is the typical multi-category broadsheet, with a variety of snacks, cured meats, and cheeses as the opening act. Starters and salads are $8–12, pastas $16–21, main courses $19–27, side dishes $6. That qualifies as inexpensive these days.

None of it is very adventurous: even picky eaters could return again and again, without repeating a dish. It all just sounds so good. Four of us were able to sample nine items, and there wasn’t a dud among them. We’d happily order any of them again. There’s a steady 4–5 ingredients per dish, and they all make sense. It feels odd to write that, but it’s often not the case.


Apple fennel salad ($10; above left), with arugula, feta cheese, pistachio, and olive oil, was a bit on the tart side, but after some discussion we rated it a success. The obligatory Farm Poached Egg ($9; above right) keeps company with mushrooms, spinach, and crispy pancetta vinaigrette.


The Sliced Garden Zucchini salad ($9; above left), with grilled corn, string beans, and almond vinaigrette, had a pleasant lemony flavor. The Soft-Shell Crab special ($10; above right), served breaded and deep-fried, won’t be available by the time you read this: order it next year.

Folded Chicken ($19; above) is terrific, the least-expensive entrée and one of the best. The bird has plenty of company: arugula, Parmigiano, tomatoes, spinach, and dried figs. It never feels like too much.


Rich Potato Gnocchi ($19; above left) with walnuts, gorgonzola, and black truffle, were lovely. Garganelli ($19; above right) with whole wheat pasta, spicy sausage, spinach, red onion, and tomato sauce, were more conventional but exactly as they should be.


The desserts are a highlight: the Chocolate Banana Pudding Sticks ($9.50; above left) and the Fruit Torte ($7.50; above right).

The two-page wine list (mostly Italian) is not as deep or as compelling as at Uva, but perhaps that’ll change as the restaurant matures. In the meantime, it is at least fairly priced, with a majority of the bottles—even the majority of the reds—below $50. You rarely see that any more. A 2009 Sicilian red was $45.

We reserved our table of four the same day; nevertheless, the restaurant was packed, so I assume they get a lot of walk-ins. It took a server about 15 minutes to take our order, and only then did he get around to mentioning the specials. After that little glitch, the meal went smoothly.

As I noted, there’s nothing terribly original about Pagani, but if you’re in that neck of the woods, it’s a fun place you’d never get tired of.

Pagani (289 Bleecker Street at Seventh Avenue South, West Village)

Food: Rustic Italian
Service: Friendly but a bit slow
Ambiance: Blonde woods, mirrored walls; Taavo Somer playbook



Uva Restaurant and Wine Bar

I am leery of accepting dinner invitations from publicists, as it’s sometimes a signal that the restaurant is desperate.

At Uva Restaurant and Wine Bar, it is entirely the opposite. On a Wednesday evening, the charming, rustic space was bustling, full of the young, energetic, value-conscious diners that most people think the Upper East Side doesn’t have.

After it opened in 2005, Uva received just one professional review that I can find, a mostly favorable write-up from The Times in $25 & Under. It has received little media attention since then. Our visit was at the publicist’s invitation, and all of the usual caveats apply. However, between the four of us we were able to sample a good deal of the menu, and my friends didn’t hesitate to share their critical reactions, both positive and negative.

Uva is owned by the Lusardi family, whose sister restaurant down the block, Lusardi’s, serves a very similar Northern Italian menu in considerably more upscale surroundings. To the younger crowd that favors Uva, Lusardi’s is the old-fashioned white-tablecloth place where they’d take the grandparents. My age is about midway between most of Uva’s patrons and grandpa, and perhaps I’d probably enjoy the higher-priced (but much quieter) Lusardi’s a bit more. Uva is more cozy: with low ceilings and exposed brick right out of the downtown playbook, it does get loud in there.

But Uva has its charms, with 40 wines by the glass, most of them $12.50 or less; and 250 wines by the bottle in a wide range from $28 to a few reserve selections in three and four figures. (I assume Uva shares stock with Lusardi’s, which has a 500-bottle list.)

Although Uva is marketed as a wine bar, it has a full menu of antipasti, cheeses, pastas, and entrées. Portions are ample, and nothing costs more than $22. There is also a late-night menu from 11:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m., a rarity in this neighborhood.

Chisolino ($9.50; above left) is a dish I’ve not had before, an Emilian-style focaccia with Robiola cheese and preserved black truffles. This was one of the more satisfying and memorable dishes of the evening.

Of the two bruschette we tried (both $6.50), our table voted a slight preference for the Sundried Tomato Puree, Pesto & Pine Nuts (above left) over the Wild Mushrooms, Arugula & Parmigiano Cheese (above right).

The appetizer course was the evening’s best, with a quartet of excellent dishes:

1. Insalata di Barbabietole ($9; above left), a salad of red beets, goat cheese and fava bean salad. Some version of this dish seems to appear in every restaurant, but this was a fine rendition of it.

2. Involtini de Melanzane ($10; above right), eggplant stuffed with ricotta and spinach, baked in a pink sauce with mozzarela. This is a dish I’ve not seen before, and frankly one of the few eggplant dishes I have ever liked.

3. Polenta Tartufata ($9; above left), fresh polenta filled with robiola cheese in a black truffle sauce. This was probably my favorite dish of the evening, and like the stuffed eggplant, I haven’t seen anything quite resembling it before.

4. Burrata Barese ($13; above right), creamy mozzarella with yellow beef tomatoes, fava beans, and a balsamic glaze.

The pasta course (right) was competently executed, but less distinctive:

1. Gnocchi di Ricotta ($18), home made ricotta gnocchi in a creamy black truffle and chive sauce. (Truffles seem to figure in a lot of the dishes here.)

2. Pappardelle al Ragu di Vitelo ($17), house-made pasta ribbons sautéed with ragout of veal and montasio cheese.

3. Cavatelli al Pesto ($18), house-made pasta shells in a creamy pesto sauce with shaved ricotta.

All three were acceptable, but the sense of the table was that we’d had better versions of them elsewhere.

The entrées were all quite heavy, plated and sauced in a style that isn’t fashionable these days. Three of the four seemed to be swimming in the identical dark brown sauce, which was too much of a good thing.

Anello de Capesante e Speck ($22; above left), was the most striking of these dishes, with five scallops arranged in a pentagon held together with a string of smoked prosciutto, resting in sautéed spinach and a white wine sauce. The whole production had a rich, dusky flavor.

Polpaccio d’Agnello ($21; above right), a braised lamb shank, seemed (like most of the entrées) over-sauced.

Vitello Gratinato con Melanzane ($22; above left), veal topped with eggplant and soft pecorino cheese in a rosemary sauce, was a higher quality and more tender veal than the pounded-into-dust versions served at lesser restaurants.

Petto d’Anatra ($22; above right), a pan-seared duck breast in a thyme sauce, was served with sautéed oyster mushrooms, spinach, and fingerling potatoes. Here, the suace was so overwhelming that it was hard to taste much of the duck at all.

All four desserts we tried were excellent:

1. Torta di Mandate ($8; above left), an almond tart served warm with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

2. Baci Perugina Mousse ($8.50; above right), a chocolate and hazelnut mousse topped with chocolate sauce and toasted hazelnuts.

3. Salame del Papa ($6.50; below left), a chocolate “salame” Venetian style.

4. Fragole con crema al mascarpone ($7.50; below right), fresh strawberries topped with mascarpone cream.

There wasn’t a dud among these, but if I must choose, the first two were more memorable.

To summarize, the starter and dessert courses were clear winners. The pastas were about typical of a good Italian restaurant in New York, while the entrées struck us as a tad old-fashioned and somewhat heavier than many diners are looking for these days. Having said that, they are certainly good for the neighborhood, especially at just $22, a good $4–5 less than many places would charge.

The service was excellent, as you’d expect at a pre-arranged meal, but if Uva is packed on a Wednesday in January after seven years in business, they are probably doing something right.

Uva (1486 Second Avenue between 77th & 78th Streets, Upper East Side)