May 8, 2006 | Insatiable Critic


        I worry that the drive to reinvent the octopus has dizzied Michael Psilakis, the inspired young chef-owner of the Upper West Side’s Onera, since Donatella Arpaia lured him east to co-reign at her new, handsomely outfitted Dona. Still, I’m wild about the chef’s meticulously carved crudi. Escolar as voluptuous as Marilyn Monroe and a tiny oyster tricked out with pink grapefruit and salty ginger launch a recent evening. There’s much to be said for grilled sardines with blistered peppers, and for crisp baccalà and bufala ricotta on garlicky skordalia. The Road Food Warrior favors splendid chitarra noodles with eggplant-and-lamb “bolognese.” And all of us are enchanted by sheep’s-milk ricotta dumplings with cracklings of speck and slivers of sage. Gummy and yummy. Even so, it strikes me that Psilakis is trying too hard. He scatters the flavors of Italy and Greece with feckless abandon, two or three too many on even his better efforts. I recommend the lamb with farro and smartly lightened avgolemono foam. Cheese plates come in three acts: supernal Gorgonzola picante from Lombardy escorted by fig-balsamic granita alongside crispy prosciutto. Pastry chef Nancy Olson’s defiantly thin sesame-studded bread sticks are addictive. I admire her olive brioche, and zucchini-chocolate cake is not as nasty as it sounds. But it will take taste buds more corrupted than mine to succumb to her walnut-thyme gelato.

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