This restaurant is closed!
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. There are downsides to visiting Bar Stuzzichini, the attractive new Flatiron eatery that is quickly drawing crowds. The noise level is high; waits between courses can seem interminable; and if you’re not careful, your modest-looking bill can climb dramatically, especially if you order alcohol. Oh, and if you’re celebrating your best friend’s birthday, you might want to bring your own candle! Now for the good news. The food, under the guidance of former Wallse chef Paul di Bari, is often excellent and rarely less than very good, and the attentive service helps ease the pain of waiting 45 minutes for a main course. Of course, you can avoid that dilemma entirely by focusing exclusively on the eatery’s namesake dishes – the stuzzichini – which are the Italian version of tapas or bar snacks. The kitchen offers approximately 25 of these nibbles, individually priced from $5-$10. (You are encouraged, however, to pick five, which come in larger portions, at $11 per person.) Some are aggressively simple, like unadorned if delicious balls of buffalo mozzarella or slices of excellent prosciutto. Others are more complex like dense mini-meatballs, light-as-air chickpea fritters, or the delightfully tender octopus. It’s tempting to just keep choosing more of these small dishes and forget about entrees altogether. That might be an easier route, but ultimately, it would be a mistake. I am certainly glad I got to try the crunchy lemon chicken, an enormous breast that remained remarkably juicy under its super-crisp skin. A huge slab of tuna looked unappealingly gray on the outside, but it was beautifully rare inside and crowned by a really nice dollop of pesto. The spicy rib-eye steak seemed to get most of its kick from pepper, but was extremely satisfying nonetheless. All entrees, however, come without any sides – so it’s wise to order the nicely made potato croquettes ($6 for an order of six) or a small dish of sautéed escarole. Then again, skip everything if it means you won’t have room for dessert. The trio of home-made mini cannoli might not be a bargain at $7, but these pastries were some of the best I’ve ever had, including almost every dessert shop and bakery in Little Italy. And my baker friend Evie was even impressed with the remarkably light-yet-rich chocolate hazelnut cake, accompanied by a scoop of vanilla gelato. It was all, as that Maxwell House commercial used to say, good to the last drop.
Review By: Brian Scott Lipton