I had dinner last December at Scalini Fedeli. It is is a pricey restaurant that gets mixed reviews, whereas the New Jersey outpost of the same restaurant gets rave after rave. An underwhelmed William Grimes awarded just one lonely star in a 1999 review, but Bob Lape awarded three in Crain’s New York Business. Michelin awarded one star, making it (in Michelin’s view) one of the city’s finer Italian restaurants.
The on-line menu at Scalini Fedeli’s website says that there are three options: prix fixe at $60, degustation menu at $70, or seasonal game menu at $75. Only the first was available when I visited. The menu showed over a dozen choices for both the first and second courses (some of which have price supplements). To these, the waiter added a recited lengthly list of daily specials. I find this extremely irritating. A restaurant of this calibre can afford to print a new menu as frequently as necessary, especially when the specials are so numerous. By the time the waiter gets to the end of his list, you’ve already forgotten the first thing he mentioned. It is too tedious to ask him to go through the whole list again.
Anyhow, we both started with the Soft Egg Yolk Raviolo, with Ricotta and Spinach, covered in truffle butter. This was absolutely outstanding. The dish has been justly praised on several websites, suggesting it’s a regular on the menu. Curiously, the menu on restaurant’s own website doesn’t list it, although the one on menupages does. By the way, the amuse was also an excellent raviolo, although I’ve forgotten what it consisted of.
For the entrée, I had the slow roasted breast of duck and leg confit with a mustard seed and black olive sauce. It comes with a Sicilian risotto. This was one of the more ample duck portions I’ve had, cooked beautifully to a medium rare temperature. There were a good 10-12 slices of duck breast, along with the leg-and-thigh confit served in a separate bowl. (I couldn’t understand the reason for separating them.) The mustard seed and black olive sauce didn’t quite work for me. It left an aftertaste that was just slightly bitter. It remains, however, one of the better servings of duck that I’ve encountered.
My companion had the roasted veal chop in a porcini dijon and green peppercorn sauce. This looked terrific, and he pronounced himself pleased.
After a pre-dessert of two sorbets, I had the carmelized apple tart (the waiter’s recommendation), and my companion had the passion fruit panna cotta. I would judge the apple tart a success, but not anything special.
Service was excellent. Tables are well spaced, and the noise level was low. The restaurant was a little under half-full when we left at about 8:00pm. On yesterday’s showing, I would say the New York Times rating of one star definitely cannot be justified. Scalini Fedeli is at least at the high end of the two-star category. Further visits might show it to be worthy of three.
Scalini Fedeli (165 Duane Street, just west of Hudson Street, TriBeCa)