190 Avenue of the Americas (Prince St)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (646) 476-9498
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Small and deservedly popular, "boutique-sized" Ciccio calls itself an Alimentari (i.e., food shop) and delivers the fabulous flavors of Florence. The show is run by Giacomo Romano who worked as a private chef in Florence; here he greets guests, oversees waiters and keeps an eye on the kitchen, all with enormous charm.
This is a neighborhood spot, handy to the Soho Playhouse and other delights of the West Village. The restaurant is down a few steps but thanks to whitewashed walls and rustic fixtures you don't feel like you're dining underground. Tables are set with strips of brown paper topped with red-and-white fabric napkins. Dishes are carefully cooked to order so don't expect wham-bam service but settle in with a basket of thin focaccia served with a dish of olive oil to swirl with balsamic.
There are all manner of creative cocktails, a full bar and a large wine list, mostly Italian with choices by the glass or bottle.
As a first course, meatballs, purportedly from the chef's Nonna's (grandmother's) secret recipe are TDO, light and airy in a pool of homemade tomato sauce, six to an order. Just as delicious and even more unusual is the gnudi, a Florentine creation made of spinach and ricotta with very little flour in a sage and butter sauce. It doesn't get any more authentic than this although the Polenta Due Modi offering polenta both with chicken livers and mushrooms, comes pretty close.
Homemade pastas are terrific whether you opt for the signature Strisce Alla Chiantigiana, strips served with guanciale (pork cheek), red onion, a Chianti wine reduction and pecorino Toscana; spinach linguini with monkfish ragu or the green pea paparadelle with sausage, red cabbage and gorgonzola cream. The striped bass special, served over small squares of veggie and potato, was split for us in the kitchen and more than worth $27.
Lunch offers include plenty of pastas as well as porchetta (roast pork) as a sandwich sparked with mustard and kale and more of that wonderful focaccia with sardines and caramelized onions, mortadella and roast eggplant or other fillings. Lunch on Mondays through Fridays runs from 11: 30 until 4 PM; dinner starts at 5 PM and keeps going until 11 PM Sundays through Wednesdays, until 11:30 Thursday through Saturday. On Saturdays and Sundays Ciccio offers "Aperitivo," a sort of Italian happy hour, from 4-6 PM.
Because the place is very small it's a good idea to make a reservation but be prepared for a little wait, often with a complimentary glass of Proseco. Service is smiling and incredibly pleasant extending to my request for a cane bag which the owner presented with a lovely flourish.
Prices are moderate especially for food of this quality with as authentic a taste as I've experienced in New York. Yes, peak dining hours can be a little hectic and that dish you ate before may not be on the menu which changes frequently but you'll depart replete and entirely happy.
Review By: Mari Gold