September 10, 2001 | Ask Gael
How do you find your way through the blur of trattorias?

         I check out the provenance. Regional chauvinism gets my attention. Or I follow the cognoscenti. Hearing that chef-owner Giancarlo Quadalti's four-year-old Teodora has quietly become a lunchtime hangout for Italian wine merchants and their emissaries, I return to find out why. Ragout of porcini with a dapper little Parmesan soufflé is why. Chewy little strozzapreti bolognese and remarkably elegant vitello tonnato (the pan-seared veal sliced thin and coated with a lush tuna mayonnaise) are why. I'm still not moved by piadina, the Romagnola bid to rival pizza, though the Italian wine dealers at my table seem pleased with salami and ham on doughy triangles and a special version draped in lardo. But crisped sea creatures and vegetables mingle irresistibly in the fritto misto piled into a potato-chip basket. The day's market scores a stunning school of giant prawns, luscious bivalves, and tender baby octopus to swim in a savory zuppa di pesce. Of course, noble wines are still flowing even as desserts appear: a smartly tart apple torta, delicate panna cotta with fruit, and grown-up (not oversweet) tortino di cioccolata.

Teodora 141 East 57th Street, 212 826 7101