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
Rating: Neighborhood Spot