April 28, 2008 | Insatiable Critic

A Taste of Sicily for Padre Figlio
The Piemontese cow makes a tender steak at Padre e Figlio. Photo: Steven Richter
The Piemontese cow makes a tender steak at Padre Figlio. Photo: Steven Richter

        I was put off by an old fashioned lack of focus in an early visit to Padre Figlio, Antonio and son Mario Cerra’s velvet-swathed emporium not far from the UN. Its Italian steakhouse ambition seemed sidetracked by so many fussed up Italian favorites, not to mention unnecessary detours into American cliché. Though the duo, the father with his extravagant style, the son dutifully modest, do seem to have a loyal following from the years of Da’ Antonio.  And it definitely has a look, with faux shutters, a trompe l’oeil library papered on one wall and an enclosed sidewalk terrace.

Salumi, cheese and olives, gift of the house.  Photo: Steven Richter

        Then I heard that gelato impresario Gino Cammarata, back in business inside a Brooklyn sun-tanning parlor, was not just delivering his celebrated ice creams here but had shared a few Sicilian pasta tricks with the chef. That seemed reason enough to give the place another chance. Tonight we’re back, bringing our own focus. “Gino’s pastas,” we command.  Antonio is up to his usual theatrical seduction. He wins the first salvo with sensational salumi, parmigiana chunks and olives – for us, a tripling of the usual house offering - plus a new Sicilian salad starring sardines and blood oranges, a blowsy fashion victim in its raddichio leaf bowl that is quirkily delicious.

        I’m transported to Sicily again as I swirl my fork in Gino’s classic bucatini con sarde - sardines, fennel, caramelized onions, pine nuts (too many) - nutty with toasted bread crumbs, but then pass it on so I can taste spaghetti in a heady toss of tuna bottarga, garlic and orange peel plus an order of fairly decent gnocchi too. By now I’m ready for gelato.

Sardines and blood orange top the radicchio-wrapped Sicilian salad. Photo: Steven Richter

        But the men have surrendered to carnivorean longings.  I will taste of course.  That’s my job! My guy’s $42 thick-cut veal chop is flawless, but our Italian companion’s porterhouse of Pietmontese-style beef from Omaha ($86 for two) is not just tender but to me, strangely soft.  I like my beef meaty, not tough, but something to chew on.

        “It is what it is,” our pal Francesco says with a shrug, savoring the taste of home. When Francesco isn’t being undyingly Neopolitan, he’s eternally Italian.

        Gino’s hazelnut and mythic pistachio gelati (his new shop is Ora Verde for the green gold of Sicily) are the longed-for finale – there is a dish for each of us, plus a bonus – cassata affogato - ice cream made with ricotta cream, “smothered” in espresso.

340 East 44th St. between First and Second Avenues.  212 286 4310
Ora Verde Gelati Espresso Bar, 1742 86th Street, Bensonhurt. 646 708 4622


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