February 12, 2007 | Insatiable Critic

Agata & Valentina Ristorante

        A rustic heft and a pop of creative ego flavor the Sicilian cooking of Salvatore Fraterrigo, the new resident chef at Agata & Valentina. The handsome space looks tiny, but it weaves into cozy alcoves on two floors. The chef’s splendid caponata sits alongside chickpea fritters and a pair of crostini—goat cheese and green olive. His cannoli shed their traditional tube of crackling pastry, the sweetened ricotta emerging in a layered column instead. Salvatore comes to the table beaming. He is especially proud of the timballetto— a bowl made of pasta filled with savory anelletti rings, my favorite dish tonight. I know Fraterrigo from his restaurant in Trapani, south of Palermo. To be frank, I might wish for more finesse. The rolled eggplant and the ravioli alla Norma are both buried in too much dense tomato sauce. Pancetta-wrapped shrimp swim in a fava bean swamp, a tasty purée but overwhelming. Better is the busiate pasta with seafood and pesto the Trapanese way: basil, almond, and garlic. Parmigiano-Reggiano is not native to Sicily: Instead, pastas get a last-minute blizzard of toasted bread crumbs, as here on bucatini with sardines. Our guests seem happy enough with red snapper on lemon risotto and pan-roasted branzino with escarole, pine nuts, and raisins. Good grub, not inexpensive but almost reasonable, soul food for the Italian families at tables around us.

1513 First Ave. at 79th St. 212 452 0691

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