Entries in Ron & Colleen Suhanosky (4)



Note: Civetta closed in November 2009. The space re-opened as Kenmare.


A restaurant like Civetta would not normally attract much notice, but for its pedigree. It has shared ownership with the Sfoglia team, and many hoped—expected—that the earlier restaurant’s success on the Upper East Side would be transferred downtown.

I must admit that I never bought into the Sfoglia hype. On my one visit, it seemed utterly unremarkable—the kind of place that I would consider only if I were in the neighborhood, assuming it wasn’t so crowded and cramped.

At Civetta, even Sfoglia’s modest ambitions are not duplicated. Sfoglia, at least, comes across as an earnest mom and pop place. Civetta, which means Owl in Italian, is just marginally better than the mine run of Little Italy restaurants on nearby Mulberry Street.

The space is on two levels. The ground floor derives its charm from a spectacular carved wood bar with a solid marble counter, which hails from an earlier era. The staff could not tell me its history, except that it was there before; that much I had figured out on my own. The rest of the room, with its wooden tables and knick-knacks on the wall, is like many other places you’ve seen.

The basement looks like it’s a new build-out. It’s designed to appeal to the late-night hipster set, with a crass décor having nothing whatsovever to do with the ground floor. We have no idea if it’s succeeding. By the time that crowd would have arrived, we were already back home. The dining room was close to full at 8:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. We suspected that the San Gennaro Festival had something to do with it.

The bread service (above left), replicated from Sfoglia if memory serves us right, was just fine. They even provided olive oil for dipping, after we asked for it.

The strength of the menu is two dozen antipasti ($8–18). It appears the pasta prices have moderated a bit after early reviewers complained, but the secondi all hover around the $30 mark. We were skeptical, so took a pass on them, ordering just antipasti and pastas.

The antipasti were stronger: Lamb Polpettini, or meatballs ($12; above left); Arancini ($12; above right), stuffed with fontina and sausage.

Seafood Risotto ($24; above left) was generic. The shrimp tasted like they came out of the freezer. Rigatoni Bolognese ($22; above right) was lukewarm and had the consistency of shoe leather.

With many compelling dining options within half-a-dozen blocks’ radius, we see no particular reason to recommend Civetta. If you go, stick with the antipasti.

Civetta (98 Kenmare Street between Mulberry Street & Cleveland Place, NoLIta)

Food: Average
Service: Acceptable
Ambiance: Acceptable
Overall: Average


The Payoff: Sfoglia

His Frankness didn’t let us down this week, awarding two stars to Sfoglia, as we expected. Eater made the very reasonable one-star bet, based on what the restaurant most probably deserves. But we strongly suspected that a small, casual, family-run Italian joint in an out-of-the-way neighborhood would float Frank’s boat. And so it did.

We win our $1 bet at 6–1 odds, while Eater loses $1.

  Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $4   $1
Gain/Loss –$1   +$6
Total +$3   +$7
Won–Lost 2–1   2–1

Rolling the Dice: Sfoglia

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Sfoglia, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. Eater’s official odds are as follows:

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 400-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: Folks, this is a tough one. For the second week in a row, we are torn between one and two stars.

Several times, Bruni has given two stars to small Italian restaurants. He clearly has a soft spot for the genre. He also has a soft spot for restaurants in neighborhoods where the fine-dining options are scarce, which is precisely the case at Lexington & 92nd. Like last week, this is a restaurant that opened quite a while ago. He doesn’t have to review it; he’s choosing to review it, and that usually means he has Something Important to say. Bruni’s “choose to” reviews have been, more often than not, two stars.

But Bruni already wrote a blog entry about Sfoglia over seven months ago, shortly after Adam Platt’s rave review in New York. He found “a mix of delights and disappointments,” along with “brusqueness and haughtiness.” Indeed, I found similar glitches when I reviewed Sfoglia in September. Bruni noted that restaurants sometimes flounder when they can’t handle the sudden influx of curious diners after a favorable review comes out.

It is rare that a restaurant can overcome a mediocre first impression. But the fact that Bruni is choosing to review it now almost certainly suggests that things have improved — otherwise, why bother? Has Sfoglia improved enough to get over the two-star hump?

The Bet: Adam Platt awarded three stars to Sfoglia. Bruni’s ratings and Platt’s have tracked fairly closely, and as far as I recall, they have never been more than one star apart. We are therefore, for the second week in a row, going out on a limb, and betting (against the Eater odds) that Sfoglia will receive two stars from Frank Bruni.



Sfoglia has gotten its share of good press lately. Andrea Strong said, “I would consider a move Uptown for this restaurant.” In New York, Adam Platt was smitten, awarding three stars on his five-star scale.

I was nowhere near as impressed. I started with the cheese antipasto ($10), which comes with crackers and a house-made jam, while my friend started with the creamy polenta ($11). Both presentations were competent, though not revelatory. I moved on to the veal chop ($25), which was a nice hunk of tender flesh spiced with a hint of sambuca. My friend had the fish of the day, which I believe was halibut—a generously sized portion. She gave me a taste, and sure enough the kitchen had gotten it right.

But for all that, the restaurant is not very comfortable. Strong said, “the vibe is soft and sexy.” Well, Strong thinks something is sexy every week. It’s a faux rustic décor that is pleasant, but unremarkable. Our table for two didn’t allow much elbow room. Wine was served in water tumblers. Although it was a white wine, there was no ice bucket.

If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d pay a visit occasionally. Next time I go to the 92nd Street Y, I’ll consider it. But it’s not a dining destination.

Sfoglia (1402 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street, Upper East Side)

Food: *½
Service: okay
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

Update: In March 2007, Frank Bruni awarded two stars to Sfoglia in the Times. Although entirely consistent with his past reviews of similar places (see Al di Là, Spigolo), it still feels like a one-star restaurant to me.