Update 7/20/2015: Get the Squash Carpaccio people. Whether you are into such veggie dishes or not is irrelevant. Thinly sliced squash with pumpkin seeds adding a nice texture, crème fraiche dropped like Hershey kisses, brown butter, pink peppercorn and other spices and herbs. The peppercorn especially complete this dish. Tastier than many beef carpaccios I’ve had. Another new must is the Potatoes side. Flash fried, then sautéed with onions, hefty amount of chili paste and other goodies. Reminded me in a way of the Momofuku rice cakes with meat. Addcitive stuff. The light and satisfying Santina fusilli is an interesting combination of lamb and the mussels which you wont find anywhere else. The bright red chicken with a tangy guajillo sauce was tender and tasty as well. Don’t overlook this gem when you visit the High Line or the great new Whitney Museum
Original Post 5/9/2015:
A lot of firsts for me at this new Carbone/Torrisi team hot spot. The first time I took a picture of my napkin. The first time I had Cecina in NYC. And the first time I caused an incident of mammoth proportions. Mammoth! But lets start with the first first.
The Napkin – I will just let the pictures do the talking. You may see a cinamon bun, though I immediately see the rolling Bowery steak from Bowery Meat Company in that napkin. Maybe I should see a mental health professional about that. Its not just the napkin. I didnt take a picture of the outside umbrellas and server attire but I urge you to google this place. On both visits I felt like I was missing a white sweater around my neck and a tennis racket. Miami Beach Chic under the the High Line.
The Cecina (pictured above) is like a crepe, or pancake, made from chickpea flour. Its a specialty of the Ligurian Sea coast spanning from Nice to Pisa. In Lucca, we saw them bake the Cecina in a wood burning pizza oven. Its thicker and can be eaten alone with just some seasoning. Here the Cecina is more like a thin spongy crepe, like the Ethiopian Injera. Not intended to be eaten alone I dont think. So when I see other bloggers say to avoid this because its flavorless, I say the point is being missed here. Combine it with any of the 5 “toppings” (tuna tartar, mushroom, shrimp, lamb tartar, avocado) for a very playful and tasty snack. So far I had the lamb and tuna. You can make four little wraps using the four Cecina slices (pronounced Chechina), or you can just tear some to scoop the toppings like in a druze village. There’s no right or wrong way of eating it, and I highly recommend it and the rest of the menu
One of my biggest fears while dining out happened during the Cecina course. And I don’t have many fears to be honest. The only fears that come to mind are death, falling while putting pants on, and dying after falling while putting jeans on. No one in the history of the world ever died while putting their pants on, and I don’t want to be the first. When I’m spending my
hard earned money while dining out, my biggest pet peeve is getting the dishes too quickly, or at the same time. It happens far too often lately, and its getting a little annoying. Here I got the Shrimp Zingara middle course not even five minutes after the Cecina. I wasn’t even halfway done with both the cecina, and fantasizing about being back at the beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer. The servant quickly realized the situation and asked me if I want him to take it back to keep it warm in the kitchen, which I never know what to say to that for so many reasons. “Hmmm, I suppose. Will it still be good?”.
Shortly thereafter, after I finished the Cecina, another server came over to take the plates away including the bottle of the green salsa verde that came as part of the Cecina arsenal. I then watched in horror as the green bottle, almost in slaw mo, lean over, coming down crashing. A team of scientists could not ungreen the floor after that. I felt particularly bad about this incident because moments earlier I made a mental note to put the bottle back in the allocated spot after using it a few times, and I never did. The waiter may have assumed the bottle is secured in its spot after picking up the tray, and oops. I apologized to him three times about this faux pas, but the staff can not assume the patrons are in the habit of putting everything in its place.
The moment was gone. I’m suddenly on the wait staff shit list, and I’m about to get a dry shrimp Zingara that was prepared 20 minutes ago and probably missing its Zingara by now. But to my surprise the shrimp dish arrives good as new, as if it was just prepared. The shrimp didnt toughen and were soft as a baby bottom. The rice was toasty, nicely al dented and had plenty of zing to it. The only issue was too much capers, as by the end I found myself separating them away from the action. Maybe they indeed made two Zingaras because I mistakenly was charged for two (or was it a shit list confirmation)
Putting service and personal issues aside, everything else I had was original and well prepared. On a previous visit with a friend we shared a Cecina, and an ingenious Guanciale e pepe. The name resembles the familiar Roman Cacio e Pepe, but the ingredients bring it closer to the rice version of Gricia, a lesser known Roman pasta. Guanciales, black pepper and grated Pecorino play together ever so nicely. I also really liked the simple, herby whole grilled porgy with sliced hearts of palm so sweet they taste like pear.
Looking forward to taste the rest of Santina. If I’m welcomed.
820 Washington St (under the begining of the High Line, south end)
I could be wrong, but I think cecina is pretty particular to Tuscany. In Liguria, it would be farinata (can’t tell you what its called in France) — and while you might think the difference is non-existent, the fact that Tuscans use so much less salt in their dishes, plus the very different taste of Ligurian olive oil as opposed to Tuscan olive, means that in a dish that only has 3 ingredients (salt, olive oil and chickpea flour), there is actually going to be a world of difference in the flavor of farinata as opposed to cecina.
Something else to consider is that Tuscans customarily eat chickpea tortes in combination with things like meat or cheese, or even bread (Sicilians do that too), Ligurians eat farinata plain. This may encourage Ligurians to produce a farinata that is intrinsically more flavorful. A great Ligurian farinata will have either a richly eggy flavor, or a distinctly nutty (almost peanut-buttery) flavor, that you actually wouldn’t want to distract from with sauces.
Lastly, the fact that your cecina at Santina (cha cha cha) put you in mind of injera also points in the direction of Tuscany — or at least the Lunigiana area of Italy that is the cross-border historic area where Toscana and Liguria meet (and there once was no border there). The type of hot-stone cooking that is common to that area produces a quasi-pasta called “testaroli” that is very, very like a spongy injera. It might have come from North Africa to Italy, in fact, a very long time ago. Testaroli is served with pesto sauces. It is never served plain. (It is not made with chickpea flour but wheat flours.)
I mention all this because Ligurian cooking is very particular and peculiar and hyper-local. A bit of it finds it way into France, into those areas that Italy once owned, and a bit of has its origins in what is now parts of Toscana (as well has having connections to Sardegna, Greece and other Mediterrean ports, including some in Spain, which probably accounts for Ligurians strong affection for garlic).
The unique isolation of Liguria’s cuisine, its extreme simplicity, and its utter dependence on local products with highly particular flavors — Ligurian soft green basil, Ligurian olives and olive oil, Ligurian low-fat fresh cheeses, local Ligurian nuts, etc — makes it an almost impossible cuisine to export with any success. It will come across as flavorless, whereas on its own turf, it is head-spinningly perfume-y and memorable, nothing but sunshine and seaside on your plate.