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Nizza

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Nizza

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Address: 630 9th Avenue (44th & 45th Sts)
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10036
Phone: (212) 956-1800
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Chef: Andy DíAmico
Cuisine: Italian
Area: West 40s
Entree Price: $10-15
Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard

Review:

Most of you who read The Strong Buzz regularly know that I'm getting married in August and that the wildly lucky guy in question is a playwright. One of the perks of being engaged to a playwright (albeit one who is as in awe of Samuel Beckett as he is of Josh Beckett) is that we go see a lot of theater, which balances out nights spent at Professor Thomís flanked by screaming sweaty men, pitchers of beer and trays of Nachos de Tomas in various states of coagulation. The joys of watching team sports are endless are they not? Anyway, in the past few months weíve seen Edward Albeeís Peter and Jerry, Harold Pinterís The Homecoming which actually made the family in Tracy Lettsí August: Osage County seem pretty normal. Wow. And I thought my family was screwed up. Weíre seeing Beckettís Endgame and George Packerís Betrayed, and weíre hoping to get to The Seafarer, The Adding Machine, and Patrick Stewart in Macbeth. The only issue with going to the theater for me is where to eat. I canít afford Esca every time, and while I like Toloache quite a bit, Iím often not in the mood for a three-course pre-fixe at 5:45pm. It seems the options in the theater district are always too expensive or just too much of a production and Iím always cramming in a meal when Iím not really hungry and thatís no fun. And then I discovered Nizza. And since then, quite frankly, we donít eat anywhere else. Nizza may be a place that many of you have heard of but shrugged off. It didnít open with a frantic wave of posts on Eater or Grub Street, and thatís probably because itís really just an unassuming modest slip of a restaurant and baróa casual place thatís bathed in blond wood like some prototype for a wine bar from Ikea. But what it lacks in sizzle it makes up for in substance. Thereís some serious talent in the kitchen and the food here has yet to be given the praise it deserves. Thatís what Iím here to do. The chef in question is none other than Andy DíAmico, an underrated talent who was most revered for his work at Sign of the Dove, and has since then been the chef of Marseille, and Nice Matin. He owns Nizza with his business partner and wine director Robert Guarino. The two conceived of Nizzaóa restaurant that takes its name from the Italian word for Niceóas a place devoted to the coastal of Nice, Liguria, and the surrounding east bank of the Riviera. They created an immensely pleasing all day (11am-2am) menu that can fill any sort of craving with antipasti, salumi, soups & salads, small plates, pizzas, panini and pastas. To drink, thereís a global wine list with 30 reasonable choices by the Ĺ liter and 100 bottles on the list. What you need to do at Nizza, as soon as youíre approached by your server who will be asking if you want something to drink and whether you want still, sparkling or tap water, is say this phrase: ďIíd like to start off with a Socca please, while I look over the menu.Ē In moments youíll be served a wide floppy golden pancake the size of an individual pizza. Known as farinata in Italy, a Socca is a chickpea and olive oil pancake thatís traditionally served to day-laborers as a sort of midday snack in Nice. Come to think of it, youíre a day-laborer here in New York and you deserve one too. Itís spectacular. Andy spices his version up with sage, onion and pecorino so itís got some nice depth of flavor, and serves it fresh and hot from a wide skillet. Craig and I pulled pieces off with our hands and gobbled it down like a child might eat a warm cookie fresh from the oven. After the Socca, you might chose to have some meats (speck, bresaola, $6 each) and maybe a salad, in which case Iíd recommend either Ligurian Tuna Salad ($10)óimported Italian canned tuna served over snappy raw marinated vegetables, San Remo olives, croutons tossed in a zippy green herb sauce. For something a bit more like an antipasti, have a serving of the warm (grilled) calamari and potato salad ($8) that glistens with grassy olive oil, and is sweetened with cherry tomatoes, and given a bracing note from olives. Weíve also followed up our Socca with a wedge of Andyís Ligurian Swiss Chard and Pancetta Torta ($7), a warm savory sort of quiche filled up with braised Swiss chard, artichokes pancetta and ricotta ($7), and an order of the Focaccetteóhandmade ravioli filled until swelling with creamy crescenza cheese and then deep-fried so the cheese center becomes like a molten fondue. If youíve ever had St. Louis-style toasted ravioli, these are similar, but in my humble opinion, better. Now that could be a meal right there, but if youíre up for more, the pastas are all made in-house and are truly exceptional. Take the Pansoti ($11) for instance, These are fresh fat ravioli filled up with chopped bitter greens, herbs and a hit of pancetta that bathe in a creamy walnut sauce thatís not for the calorie conscious. Another surprise was the pasta al pesto. I mean whatís so exciting about pasta in pesto sauce? Since you asked, Iíll tell you what. The pasta and the sauce, thatís what. Andy makes these wide sheets of pasta, like pasta handkerchiefs, dresses them a garlic and herb pesto thatís got the perfect balance of garlic, cheese, basil and pine nuts. While weíre still apparently in winter, have a plate of his wild boar lasagna, a rustic hearty meal perfect for these cold rainy nights weíve been having ($12). The menu also offers a selection of entrees under Specialties like a simple roasted Branzino with roasted artichokes, potatoes and olives, but my favorite is a quite decadent dish called Tomaxelle. This is a sort of a sausage that's stuffed veal and sweetbreads and served over a stew of white beans and escarole. When Iím seeing a matinee, I like to stop in for a bowl of soup- tomato soup finished with fresh ricotta ($6), or the white bean chickpea and faro, finished with olive oil and shaved Pecorino, $7)- and a Panini, like the hot coppa with pickled onions and mozzarella ($10), or one of the individual-sized pizzas like the one topped with taleggio, pancetta, chili flake, and Parmesan ($10). To be sure, the pizzas are not as good as the ones at Lilí Frankieís, or Otto or at other more pizza-centered eateries but theyíre fine. My complaint would be that the crusts are too thin; they need a bit more chew. But even with the pizza issue, Iíve never been to Nizza and not had a good meal. In fact, every time Iíve left Iíve thought, wow, that was great, and that was cheap, too. Iíve wondered why more people arenít talking about this place. Maybe itís because itís really quite unassuming. The place is not really all that cozy. With all that wood and glass, it can feel a bit stark, like it belongs in an airport mall or something. But if thatís whatís keeping away the crowds, I guess thatís good, because at the moment, Nizza is an under the radar gem where you can just stop in without a reservation and get a table pretty easily, or grab a couple of stools at the marble-topped bar. Chances are, Craig and I will be seated not too far away, discussing Beckett, or Beckett.

Review By: Andrea Strong


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