May 9, 2011 | BITE: My Journal
Stuzzicheria Second Time Around
Sfoglia chef Ron Suhanosky trades la dolce vita for home at the range. Photo: Steven Richter
I needed to know what Sfoglia’s Ron Suhanosky was doing in Tribeca. I loved Sfoglia, across from the 92nd Y, on the very first night I tasted his strawberry-tomato spaghetti sauce. “A Renaissance recipe,” he told me when I accused him of hyper-creativity. Last I knew he’d gone off to live the good life in Florence with Colleen and their children. Now I discover he’s back, giving Stuzzicheria Tribeca a makeover.
Tulips, olives, a toast, launch an evening of high expectation. Photo: Steven Richter
It’s a second chance for Ron after some financial setbacks, and a new image for the downtown Stuzzicheria. Locals may have enjoyed the small plates since the uptown partners opened this branch in 2010. Frankly, I wasn’t tempted to come till Ron moved in. Now there’s an ambitious new vibe, an appealing vintage country charm and somewhat higher prices.
Votives, begonias and cherry blossoms come with the makeover. Photo: Steven Richter
The small room is warmed by votives, an extravagance of flowers – bright pink cherry blossoms, begonias and tulips – and a saucy mix of table tops from Suhanosky’s collection. His grandmother’s porcelain enamel kitchen table, great-grandmother’s table too, a long wooden trestle for eight. A bowl of bright red Calabrian peppers as a centerpiece and the pink leather banquette he kept when he sold Sfoglia, just 40 seats, nine at the bar, a small sidewalk café. The uncurtained glass windows wrapping around possibly save it from claustrophobia. He and partner Gerard Renny (split from the original Stuzzicheria team) think it’s a concept they can repeat around town.
Crisp rice croquettes (suppli) and meatballs to share. Photo: Steven Richter
My friends (Sfoglia fans too) and I are sharing half a dozen small plates. “Share, share, share,” the waiter has instructed us. Marvelously tangy cippolini in a lush and sticky agrodolce. Veal-ricotta meatballs in a fine tomato sauce. Deep-fried “suppli” are delicious saffron-touched spring pea risotto croquettes. Already a bit aggressively priced at $10, there could easily be four rather than three for our quartet, I complain. Make it $11 if you must, Ron.
The mussels we loved at Sfoglia are sadly lacking tonight. Photo: Steven Richter
I weigh ordering artichoke with grandma’s stuffing (not exactly easy to divvy for four), fava beans with ricotta salata and pine nuts or asparagus with hard-boiled egg, and guanciale dressing. I definitely want the fritto misto of fried mixed seafood with onion and lemon slices. Alas, our pals are dieting and won’t touch anything fried. We agree we must have our favorite Sfoglia starter – the dish Steven and I ordered every time – wild mussels with tomato, fennel and pepperoncini. Oops. Tonight the broth is scant and doesn’t have the exuberance remembered. I find exactly one baton of salami instead of the expected platoon. Not having spied Suhanosky yet, I begin to wonder if he is really in the house. Surely he cannot think this odd Sicilian chickpea fritter sandwich is worthy of his imprimatur.
Our friends share whole roasted branzino with lemon marmellata. Photo: Steven Richter
But here he is, standing at the table. “No more cookbook author posing in the front room,” he says ruefully. “I’m working. I am at the stove. It’s just me and another guy in the kitchen.” That means lunch and brunch too. He’s just finished the brunch menu, he reports.
I tell him I miss the odd and wonderful vegetables he used to do at Sfoglia. The red peppers with Amaretti crumbs. String beans in tonnato. Stuzzicheria’s serviceable focaccia pales in memory of Colleen’s mythic warm brioche-like bread hot from the oven. He’s gone on, it seems, and we haven’t. “This is Stuzzicheria. We’re still working on the menu,” he says.
This spicy bucatini all’Amatriciana is better than any we tasted in Rome. Photo: Steven Richter
For now though, his pepperoncini-hot bucatini all’Amatriciana with pig jaw is better than any we had in Rome. The chef is a gnocchi adept. (If you’re a pasta fan, you’ll want Suhanosky's award-winning “Pasta Sfoglia.”) From his vast repertoire come these rich-as-Croesus ricotta gnocchi with morels, mint cream and bits of pistachio. I love it, gummy nubbins and all. Our friends are getting thinner by the moment as they share a good sized whole roasted branzino with lemon marmellata ($25) and they are asking him for the marmalade recipe. Orata baked in parchment, chicken cooked under a brick, lamb chops all’Arabiata: entrees are gently enough priced at $18 to $25.
From a vast repertoire of gnocchi recipes: super rich ricotta dumpling. Photo: Steven Richter
I have promised my friends there will be no temptations of Colleen’s bread and butter pudding hot from the oven or her daily changing rustic fruit tart to sabotage their diet resolve, since the two have separated and she’s on Nantucket with the children for the summer.
Indeed, for a time when Ron arrived three months ago, dessert here was just ice cream or sorbet. It’s still not listed on the menu, which the waiter brings anyway for some inexplicable reason, then recites the options. I decide not to torture our friends by ordering ricotta zeppole.
Olive oil cake with olive ice cream proves unexpectedly splendid. . Photo: Steven Richter
And I have little hope for olive oil cake with olive oil ice cream. It sounds excessively olive-oily, but I order it anyway for purposes of research. Amazed, I must admit that both cake and ice cream are luscious, better than the primitive panna cotta with raspberry sorbet.
The room has emptied and the unmatched table tops stand out, delighting me. There’s that bowl of Calabrian red peppers on one. Tulips fainting on another. “The Italian Table” is the title and theme of Suhanosky’s new cookbook with these very tables inspiring each chapter of recipes.Great grandmother’s table is pristine, I notice as we exit. We follow a tiny slice of moon to our car.
305 Church Street corner of Walker Street. 212 219 4037. Lunch Tuesday through Friday noon to 4:30 pm. Dinner 5:30 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday noon to 4:30.