Why do people go to restaurants? The most obvious answer is to eat and that is certainly true. There is little point in going to a restaurant if not to eat, but one does not necessarily need to go to a restaurant to eat. On most evenings either my wife or I cook at home. The main reasons I choose to go to restaurants are for food superior and/or different to what we cook at home, to socialize with friends and family or when we are simply too tired or lazy to cook or clean for ourselves. Fortunately for us, the last reason is a relatively rare occurrence. The vast majority of the time, we go out to restaurants to experience the cooking of chefs who really know what they are doing and do it very, very well. Even when the primary purpose is to gather with friends or family, it is important to do so at a restaurant that will provide a meal that is fulfilling and delicious with an environment conducive to enjoying the company of one’s dining partners. In those situations, the overall quality of the experience is more important than the novelty or creativity of the food. The food must be delicious, but need not necessarily be cutting edge. Such was the case this past weekend when my wife and I got together with several of my siblings and their spouses to honor our father for what would have been his 102nd birthday.
Growing up in Brooklyn with two first generation Italian-American parents meant that the bulk of what we ate was classic New York City Italian-American fare. We had plenty of pasta, red sauce, seafood, grilled meats and more. The vast majority of the times that we went out to eat as a family we went to Italian restaurants – places like Two Toms, Monte’s Venetian Room, Ferdinando’s Foccaceria and Gargiulo’s in Brooklyn and Teddy’s in Manhattan. It is a style of food that everyone in my family is comfortable with and loves. As a result, when choosing a restaurant to honor the memory of our parents, it couldn’t be anything other than Italian or Italian-American. Two years ago, on the occasion of our father’s centennial birthday, we had an awesome celebratory meal at Chef Joe Isidori’s Arthur on Smith. On this occasion with all of us coming in from outside the city, we shifted our focus to Manhattan and Frankie’s 570 Spuntino.
Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo, the chefs behind the Frankie’s Spuntino restaurants in Brooklyn and Manhattan have amassed a worldwide reputation for their down-home Italian American fare, but somehow, I had never been to any of their restaurants, though some of my siblings had and loved them. As a result, it was a no-brainer to select one of their restaurants for this celebration and with a chef’s chef like Ryan Bartlow running the kitchen at Frankie’s 570 in Manhattan, that was the one we chose.
Frankie’s 570 is a comfortable space on Hudson Street in the West Village. It is casual, but nicely appointed with rich, wooden rectangular tables. Arriving for a meal early by NYC standards, we sat along a wall with good views of the rest of the space while still all being able to talk amongst ourselves. Had there been more of us it might have been difficult, but for our group of seven, it was ideal.
We started with some cocktails and wine. I had a cocktail dubbed “Mi Maria Rosa,” which proved to be a terrific blend of Tequila Reposado, green Chartreuse, Campari, Lemon, grapefruit, rosemary, and black walnut bitters. It was very well constructed and delicious. My brother’s “Narratore” with gin, lemon, St. Germain, sage and ginger beer was equally delicious. We were off to a nice start!
The first edible item to arrive on the table was some great, crusty Italian bread along with the house Sicilian olive oil and butter. This was bread worth eating!
Shortly after, we started being buried with food. Our antipasti included many of the items listed on the menu. The salumi plate of both spicy and sweet soppresatte and silky prosciutto di Parma were classic and delicious.
A cheese plate with olives was tasty too.
A more interesting way to eat and enjoy cheese, especially at this time of year came with a bowl of juicy, sliced peaches paired with creamy Gorgonzola, crunchy almonds and a drizzle of balsamico. This was seasonal eating at its best, with each ingredient enhancing the others.
The seasonal approach was also applied to a salad of sweet watermelon, perky red onions, smooth avocados and refreshing mint. While not quite as enrapturing as the peaches and Gorgonzola combo, it was satisfying nevertheless.
What is more seasonal than heirloom tomatoes in August in the northeast USA? These were delicious (of course!), especially when the tomatoes acidic sweetness was matched with the suave milkiness of fresh buratta and the green flavor profile of Frankie’s Sicilian olive oil. This is just a wonderful example of how to let great ingredients shine, an essential aspect of the best Italian food.
A variety of crostini delighted, but were overshadowed by some of the other dishes put out at the same time.
One of those overshadowing dishes was this crudo featuring one of my favorite fish – striped bass. The fish was sweet and fresh and played well with its dish-mates.
Though not overtly seasonal, given the now year round availability of the ingredients, a platter of roasted carrots, cauliflower and mushrooms brought out the best of these ingredients that are also currently at their best in the farmers’ markets of the region.
We had desired a crisp Pinot Grigio to accompany our appetizers and the one they had available turned out was a Rosato. It hit the right notes and at $49/bottle was a great enough value to order a couple of bottles.
After a short breather, the march of the primi commenced with an opportunity to sample a variety of the restaurant’s pasta offerings.Starting with thiese chicken filled tortellini with broccoli rabe pesto, the pastas were different enough to be interesting, but approachable enough to be comforting. They were also delicious and well enough prepared to be thoroughly enjoyable.
The cavatelli with spicy sausage and sage butter is one of their standards and I can understand why. It was hearty, well made and had a great chew courtesy of the cavatelli.
Also spicy, the linguine with rock shrimp had the tomato and seafood flavor that I love.
The best of the pasta dishes that we had, though, was the gnocchi with marinara and fresh ricotta. While the sauce and the ricotta were superb, the quality of the gnocchi was as good as it gets. These were ethereally light and just plain magnificent. There is no better reason to have a pasta dish than this.
We ordered a red to have with our secondi. I had wanted a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for it’s rustic earthiness, but they were out of the one on the menu. Our excellent waitress, Maria, however, recommended another similarly priced wine, a Chianti Classico, that wound up having many of the same food-friendly features that I had been looking for in a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
The secondi flowed like the entire meal prior with plenty of food to sate our now dwindling appetites. We had a mix of seafood and meat dishes. The grilled octopus was tender and tasty.
So was the grilled calamari, which had been scored to achieve that effect.
Grilled swordfish was reminiscent of my trip to Sicily twelve years ago.
The meatballs in sauce could have come out of a Sicilian grandmother’s home with the typically Sicilian inclusion of pine nuts and raisins. They were superb.
Eggplant Parm was classic and delightful for it.
So too the green beans.
It was no surprise that the pork braciola was generally considered to be one of the best dishes of this excellent meal. My family loves braciole and this full-flavored, tender version was outstanding enough that despite our general state of fullness, we felt compelled to order a second!
The big surprise (for me, at least) was the roast chicken, which was about as delicious as roast chicken gets and that is pretty damned delicious! The funny thing, is that if not for one of us, who is a chicken lover, it would likely not have been ordered. Lucky us!
We were actually all too full to even think about dessert, but fortunately, we didn’t have to, as a supply was sent to us from the kitchen. They were all traditional and all solid, well-done efforts, worth diving into, from the Italian cheesecake to the Tiramisu to the berry tart to the crême brulee to the chocolate tart.
My favorite, however, was the sweet and tart, prunes in red-wine over creamy mascarpone. This was a dessert that I would be happy to enjoy anytime anywhere.
Our wonderful family get together finished up over some coffee, amaros and plenty of laughs. I am quite fortunate to have a set of siblings who all enjoy being together, laughing dining and having fun. Despite a seventeen year spread from top to bottom, we all enjoy getting together and sharing in the good times and being there for each other when the times aren’t so good. Thanks to great food, a warm staff and a tight family this memorable meal in honor of our father was one of those good times.