February 20, 2006 | Ask Gael

Cocoa-flavored gnocchi? Do I dare?

        I admit I had little hope for that gnocchi, or for fried cod over lemon marmalade, or fennel salad with licorice-spiked olive oil, bold moves on the menu at brand-new Spiga. Such unbridled ambition in this awkward little space. But executive chef Salvatore Corea convinced his Roman partner, Alessandro Peluso, to defy trattoria tradition with contemporary bravura. Frankly, I don’t taste the licorice at all in the sprightly toss of fennel, orange, and black olive. That helps. But I can smell, and my mouth senses chocolate, adding depth and luscious richness to the gnocchi with porcini and juicy ribbons of wild boar. It’s the hit of the night. A simple mushroom-and-Gorgonzola lasagne, an almost-classic zucchini parmigiana, and garganelli pasta with broccoletti and pig cheek also stand out. Baccalà three ways with chickpea purée in a spoon, atop cod crudo, and a cod fritter is two-thirds pleasing. But there’s too much sweetness in the roasted pork loin on honeyed cabbage, and particularly in the fried cream croquette. When you walk the high wire, it’s easy to slip. Lemon gives mascarpone mousse a smart citric edge, but $8.95 for desserts on West 84th Street feels a bit greedy. Early on, the kitchen seemed painfully slow, but once the eager crew gets the drift, this could become a welcome option for Upper West Siders.

200 W. 84th St. nr. Amsterdam Ave. 212 362 5506
Cafe Fiorello