May 9, 2005 | Ask Gael
Can't you stay away from Clinton Street?

        Notoriously tight, I’m reluctant to invest $32 round-trip cab fare to this punky and uncertain Restaurant Row. But I’m instantly disarmed by the white spic ’n’ span of Falai, with its lightbulbs sheathed in clever crystal dangles, and a rat-a-tat of lace on tables and walls. This is no copycat trattoria. It’s boldly, bravely Florentine, with barely cooked rock shrimp in a chickpea porridge, savory farro salad under pecorino shards, and white bean purée with bits of musetto (fatty pork sausage) on luscious handmade pinci noodles. What a pleasant shock to find splendid house-baked breads, like the black-cabbage-studded rolls or focaccina rounds, warm from the oven and oozing fragrant olive oil, passed mid-meal, in such a modest storefront. But then, chef-partner Iacopo Falai was wooed from Florence’s fancy Enoteca Pinchiorri to do pastry for Le Cirque before settling here. Nothing could be more satisfying to nostalgia than a simple chicken served in its roasting terrine. Strangely, I’m not bothered by cocoa nibs nudging up to the pork fillet. But the pork-fat-wrapped tuna could be rarer. Except for elegant profiteroles and fine sorbets (a gentle $3 per scoop), desserts are less than thrilling, given the chef’s resume. In sum, neither trendy nor defiantly eccentric, more charming than brilliant, and worth a trek.

68 Clinton Street near Rivington Street. 212 253 1960


Cafe Fiorello