I must have walked by Novitá dozens of times, over the years, but it never actually registered until after Sam Sifton upgraded it to two stars in February (it previously had one from Ruth Reichl). The city is full of places like that — decent neighborhood restaurants that get zero media coverage, that you walk by on the way to someplace else without a second thought.
Sifton’s argument for awarding two stars was exceptionally weak — by which I mean that, even taking him at his word, it made little sense. Pasta is “excellent . . . a rejoinder to low expectations.” “[T]he plates are food, not art,” the chef makes a great prosciutto with melon, and “Main courses are less successful.”
It is, in other words, one of a hundred mostly interchangeable Italian restaurants in our fair city.
Gramigna alla carbonara ($14.50; above left), a concoction of macaroni with eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale and black pepper, was probably the best thing we tried, lustily flavored and amply portioned. Eggplant Parmigiana ($15; above right) was just fine, but it is fine at lots of other places.
The kitchen did well by a whole Branzino ($29; above left). Very few restaurants serve a pounded Veal Chop ($29; above right) on the bone, but one couldn’t avoid thinking that it was a preparation designed to bury mediocre product in a blaze of cheese and tomato.
On OpenTable, Novità is flagged as “romantic,” and that’s a mistake. The room is attractive, but it is too crowded, the tables too tightly packed, the service too impersonal. At prime times, you’ll feel like you’re dining in front of an audience: there is no waiting space for unseated parties, so they just line the edge of the room until a table frees up.
The restaurant was full on a Thursday evening, probably not due to Sifton’s review, but simply because the neighborhood is glad to have it. The waiter recites a long list of specials, which irritates the neophyte, but if you’re a regular it means there is always something new to try. Though not exactly inexpensive, it’s a fair deal given the size of the portions; the food, if unoriginal and unspectacular, is a step up from generic sidewalk Italian.
Novitá (102 E. 22nd Street, east of Park Avenue, Gramercy)