Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Il Pittore

If memory serves, Il Pittore is Stephen Starr's first (non-pizza) Italian effort since the late and not particularly lamented Angelina. With an SRO gift card in hand, my mother-in-law watching our new baby, and a desire to try something new, we headed out for a date night to see how this effort stacks up.

Occupying the Sansom Street space formerly housing Noble, Il Pittore is surprisingly intimate for a Starr joint, and the white walls and dark wood give it a refined sense of rusticity that put me in the mind of Mario Batali's Babbo up in New York. Seated on the second floor, the crowd was strangely dominated by the old-men-in-suits crowd; maybe the word has gotten out that this is a great out-of-the-way place for a romantic business meeting?

The structure of the menu is typically Italian, with antipasti, pasta courses, mains and "contorni" (or sides). Looking the menu over, though, provided some explanation for the expense-account nature of the crowd, as prices are a bit high with apps and pastas averaging between $15 and $20, and mains running from $25-$35.

Lauren had a glass of a very nice prosecco from the all-Italian wine list, while I enjoyed a Pennello (more or less an Old Overholt Manhattan with a splash of Cynar in it; a very well-balanced and dangerously smooth and drinkable cocktail). Out came a basket of breads, all made in-house, which featured a nice but somewhat cake-like herbed focaccia, light yet flavorful ciabattini, and thin, anise seed-studded breadsticks.

We split the cod appetizer, which consisted of a lightly smoked and hard-seared piece of cod set atop a golden yellow, saffron-enriched mound of soft (almost polenta-like) baccala, with a poached calamari salad on top. Unfortunately my splitting skills were not the best and I ended up shorting myself on the delightfully crisped edge of the cod, but the subtle smokiness of the fish was flavorful enough.

Though we originally intended to split a pasta course as well, the selections proved too alluring and we each ended up with our own. Lauren's lobster-filled tortellini, served with a burrata and topped with a not inconsiderable amount of shaved black truffle, were flavorful, though to me the pasta's wrapper gave off an oddly Asian wonton vibe.

However.

My pasta, the Gramigna, was absolutely sensational. Loose, short corkscrews of pasta ("chianti-stained" according to the menu, though no red color was evident), topped with a duck ragout, shaved bitter chocolate and grated cheese. The thing that made this dish so wonderful was the perfectly balanced hint of acid that blasted through the rich, savory duck sauce. As much as I like to never order the same thing twice, I would be hard-pressed not to get this again on a return visit. (And thanks to Lauren for insisting I order it in the first place; otherwise I was going to go for the corzetti with braised goat, mint and chili oil, which sounded great, but then I wouldn't have had this!)

Mains were similarly successful. Lauren's monkfish "saltimbocca" was three or four pieces of the fish, wrapped in prosciutto so thin that it disappeared completely upon cooking, leaving behind only the slight hint of porky saltiness. Better, though, was my braised veal cheek, two nicely-sized pieces that glistened from their intense braising liquid. Underneath, polenta taragna, which is both coarser than the usual polenta grind and also blends in buckwheat – even without the veal on top, it would have made a satisfying dish of its own. (And halfway through, we switched entrees. This is how you know I love my wife.)

I must admit we did not get dessert, because Il Pittore is, unfortunately for them, located deep within the Capo Giro sphere of influence.

Service was pretty decent, although our waiter was just slightly strange, and pulled the old "I am so cool I do not need to write down your order; here I go to put it in; wait, here I come back, what was your pasta order again?" routine. The aspirations are definitely on the higher end of the Starr service spectrum though, as is befitting the prices.

So Il Pittore is not cheap, but nor does it fail to impress. I give it a full recommendation for a special-occasion Italian meal, whether you are discussing mergers and acquisitions with your grey-suited ilk or putting the moves on your sweetheart. If you're in the area and not looking to drain your wallet to such a degree, Porcini and Melograno are both excellent options on the same block, but nowhere near on the same level of refinement.

Il Pittore on Urbanspoon

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