August 17, 2009
The block of East 58th Street between Second and Third Avenues has been the site of many Italian (and Indian) restaurants for a long time. Felidia has been a fixture there since 1981. Its earlier reputation had faded until a new chef, Fortunato Nicotra, was brought in from Italy in 1996. Felidia is now regarded as one of the best Italian restaurants in New York and surely the best in mid-town. This can account for the many tables full of people who looked like they had just come from the office when we arrived on Thursday, August 6, 2009, at 7:00. We were seated upstairs in the back near a serving table which provided constant good restaurant theater during our meal. We could watch chicken carving, fish deboning, wine decanting as well as the frequent plating and saucing of dishes.
We ordered glasses of Prosecco and looked at the menu and wine list. Tasting menus are offered, but we decided to order à la carte with the traditional Italian antipasto; primo, or pasta; and secondo: meat or fish.
There was a page of unusual recommended Italian wines in the list; from it we chose the 2004 Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo (Nebbiolo) Ghemme (Piemonte.) Ghemme is sometimes cited as the best area for the Nebbiolo grape after Barolo and Barbaresco. It was robust and flavorful.
Good, fresh country bread with a white bean spread arrived.
Linda’s antipasto was a seasonal special for the evening
Zucchini blossom stuffed with eggplant and mozzarella, breaded and fried, served with a light tomato sauce
The stuffing and coating of the zucchini flower were very good. The light tomato sauce had nice fresh seasonal flavor.
My antipasto was
Octopus: grilled and mosaic “latte di mandorle”, string bean and almond salad
The very thin slicing of the octopus in the mosaic avoided any problem with toughness or rubberyness. The menu description implies that it was cooked in almond milk, but that wasn’t evident. The charred chunks gave a second, contrasting texture for the octopus flavor. The green beans and almonds added a needed freshness. Good.
Linda’s pasta was
Il Cacio e Pere
Pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli, aged pecorino, crushed black pepper
The home-made ravioli were delicious. Linda asked for, and received, them without the pepper. She declared the dish excellent.
My pasta was
Three-cheese Istrian “wedding pillows” filled with citrus rind and rum “macchiati,” veal sugo di arrosto
Felidia is derived from the names of its founders, Felice and Lidia Bastianich. They are from Istria, the peninsula south of Trieste, Italian then, Croatian now. Istrianet tells us:
In Istria, these ravioli-like dumplings are served on particularly festive occasions, especially weddings, because their sweetness is supposedly to augur well for a happy marriage, and their richness symbolizes future prosperity. Neither citrus fruits nor rum were indigenous to Istria. Traditionally considered foreign trade ingredients, they were included in krafi as tokens of esteem for the occasion, the principals, and the assembled guests. Juice from the roast was traditionally added.
They were light and fluffy; I enjoyed the unusual flavor combination a lot.
Linda’s main course was
Vermont quail: breast wrapped with bacon and prunes, roasted legs, vegetables agrodolce
The wrapped breasts had a good quail flavor amidst the bacon, but the legs were just crispy fried. The vegetables were very good, but not sweet and sour as described in the menu.
My main course was
Sliced calf’s liver, polenta, farro, shallot gratin
The calf’s liver came in large, charred chunks; nicely caramelized on the outside; pink and tender inside. Underneath was a shallot and farro marmelade on top of a very crisp polenta wafer square. Twenty-five-year-old balsamic vinegar was dribbled on at the table. I liked this dish, but it was so rich and the portion so generous I could not finish it.
We did not order dessert, but a little plate of cookies was put on the table. The green pistachio ones were particularly good.
We enjoyed the meal as it was very Italian without being standard NY-Italian fare. The zucchini flower and the two pastas were particularly good. The service and the pace of the meal were fine. The noise level was much too high as the business people nearby had to speak up to be heard in this enclosed space.