September 18, 2005 | Ask Gael

I'm Bored With All Those Copycat Trattorias

        It looks like just another unassuming storefront on a shabby stretch of Ninth, but you get a hint of the unabashed ambition at Roberto Passon as soon as you see his ravioli—each twisted to look like a flying nun’s headdress, then butter-tossed with asparagus slivers and fried sage. And, best of all, the chef has tamed the usual overly sweet stickiness of the classic pumpkin filling. While my guest from Venice is thrilled to be trading nostalgia in Italian with the waiter, the rest of us are exclaiming over the savory bacon-studded fusilli with radicchio, and deftly cooked pappardelle with stewed venison—generous portions for just $11 and $13. The chef’s obsession with design can careen out of control occasionally—sliced pork loin doesn’t need to sit in a tasteless shell sculpted from Parmigiano-Reggiano—but he redeems himself wrapping monkfish in speck without overcooking the fish. And the evening’s special osso buco is a staggering triumph—huge, sweetly crusty, and tender, though I’m shocked at the price: $26, when menu entrées are mostly $15 to $19. Still, it’s enough for two (or at least it is tonight). Think of Roberto Passon, neat but unassuming in look, parked on the edge of the theater district, for a late supper-sans-cliché after the curtain falls

741 Ninth Avenue at 50th Street 212 582 5599


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