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no tap water - and no good food - at Trattoria Pesce Pasta

Anyone who's been to Italy knows that special feeling you get when you walk into many restaurants in that country: that the proprieters wish to separate you from your money as fast, slickly, and thoroughly as possible. The owners of Trattoria Pesce Pasta (a stupid name to be sure) have recreated that experience here with their chain of four or five NYC restaurants.

The first thing the waiter asked - or more accurately demanded - was "sparkling or flat water?" I said I'll have regular water. He said "sparkling or flat". I clarified that I wanted tap water. He insisted "sparkling or flat". "No tap water?" "Sparkling or flat". Not in the mood for an argument, and willing to go along for the absurd ride, I relented. "Flat".

I started with minestrone which was hot and thick and colorful and chock ful of veggies and, by the way, completely devoid of flavor. This flavorlessness persisted despite the waiter having - without my consent - come over to grind pepper and spoon cheese into my bowl. Like I said, I was in this for the ride.

After laboring through the minestrone, next came penne with meatballs. And more unrequested grated cheese. The sauce was super-thick, the meatballs dense. The flavor - well, there was none. Honestly, the chef here must really hate italian food, or food in general, or life itself. Although the place has some nice atmosphere and a fetching Sinatra soundtrack, the cooking is truly dead.

And did I mention? My flat water cost me $7. And the whole absurd ride, including tax, tip and toll, set me back $38.

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  1. I would have said 'no thanks' to either options, asked for an empty glass, filled it up at the sink and gave him a lousy tip for lousy service.

    1. I've had good meals there, but it was a looooong time ago! They used to do pretty good seafood, but always a little heavy on what I think of as a Livorgnese approach, i.e. chopped tomatoes or artichokes or other overpowering stuff on top. I gave up on this place when everything started tasting the same.

      1. Which location was this? The newish one on 9th Avenue, near Port Authority, is awful, but I still like the one on Bleecker.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Nina_P

          It was 9th Avenue - where the demented waiter at lunchtime recited the specials in warp speed and with an accent as thick as Livorgnese tomato sauce. He might as well have been a carnival sideshow - except for the fact that he projected a genuine thuggishness. One should bring the police along next time, in case the refusal of water devolves into a row or tumble.

          1. re: Skillet Licker

            Yup, the 9th Avenue one is terrible all right. I don't know what the deal is, how they have the same name as the one on Bleecker. Even the menus are different now; for example Bleecker St.'s delicious veggie antipasto plate is unavailable on 9th Ave.

        2. The Upper East Side location is quite friendly, an real neighborhood place. Single diners sit at the bar and chat w/the bartender who always refills your wine glass free of charge. I actually love their stuffed artichoke. And I've never had an issue ordering water there. I would walk out of a place that did not offer tap water in NYC, plain and simple.

          1. I'll also put in a good word for the UES location.

            And I hapen to be just back from Italy last week and I know the exact feeling the original poster described. I was looking forward to getting back to NYC to have some good Italian food. (Actually, I had more great meals there than poor ones but a real effort had to be made, and there were a few real clunkers.)

            1 Reply
            1. re: Michael Ambrosio

              Uhm... not to hijack the thread, but as I am Italian I feel compelled to get a word in here. I seriously don't think there are any more or less tourist trap rip-offs in your average Italian city than there are around tourist destinations in New York. All it takes is a little research and effort. I'm sure there are tourists who come to NYC and are sorely disappointed by Bubba Gump Shrimp in Times Square.

            2. Whoa- if you are referring to the Bleecker location, all I can say is that there is not one Italian (or person of Italian descent) in the joint. I am also sorry to hear that you've made unfortunate restaurant choices while in Italy, as well.

              1 Reply
              1. re: vvvindaloo

                This "flat or sparkling" crap goes on everywhere these days. If you go with a party of more than 6, say, they just circulate and pout constantly. Whenever I am hosting, I put a stop to it. In fact, I call over ahead of time and insist that I want my guests offered Bloomie water (aka Aqua Giuliani) and not to serve bottled water unless someone asks for it.


                As for Pesce Pasta, the one on Bleeker turns out some decent dishes-- I used to get take out there all the time before I discovered Da Andrea. Much better food, more quantity.

              2. I noticed this thread and feel compelled to add my comments. I went to the Pesce Pasta on the UES (3rd and 87th) this past weekend, and the food was unbelievably terrible. I was truly astonished at how bad it was. Appetizers of fried calamari and broccoli rabe were ok, but our two entrees -- the Lasagna and Fettuccine Amatriciana -- were awful, awful, awful. Just unfathomably awful! The lasagna filling resembled refried beans, and the dish was so unappealingly rich and dense that it was seriously inedible after a few bites. How can lasagna be bad?! The Fettuccine was overcooked (it tasted like soggy egg noodles), and the sauce was so bland as to be completely unrecognizable as an amatriciana sauce (not spicy, no semblance of bacon flavor whatsoever). It's not like I have high standards or am being snobby; this food was simply and unequivocally bad. I will never go back there again.

                1. I had the same experience at the 9th Avenue location. Long story short, we ended up having a lengthy, heated discussion with the waiter, who - after we made our displeasure abundantly clear about not being served tap water - said, finally, we could have the flat water for free. My friend responded something to the effect "that is not the point, the point is that we are customers and we have had to have an argument about getting what we are entitled to." We decided to leave and ended up having a nice meal around the corner at Carbone (where I should note, they brought us tap water automatically without us even having to ask). And it wasn't even like we were being cheap. We had ordered two glasses of wine with our tap water. I never got to try the food, but the wine (not cheap) was not even good. After your review, I guess I was spared what was likely going to be a disappointing meal. I also thought the place was cute, so it is a shame that they are doing business like this. A NY Times reviewer had a similar experience within the last year or two at another NYC restaurant and wrote about it. I think there was a discussion of it somewhere on chowhound.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: boccalupo

                    I think that had to do with Pizza Neapolitana, the place in the East Village. My last meal at the Bleecker St. P&P was pretty awful. Pasta is far from al dente and mains were kind of gloppy and not in a good way!

                  2. My 6-year-old son and I were visiting New York last weekend from L.A., and spending the day stag in the city while my wife attended meetings in Jersey. We stumbled into the Bleecker Street Pesce Pasta a bit before 6pm last Saturday, and I have to say, from our (admittedly touristy) point of view, we had a rather nice, simple and reasonably priced dinner. I now see that these places (especially the other branches) get rather mixed reviews here, but we didn't know that last Saturday. It just happened to be the first place we saw that looked good--and was already open--as we wandered, starving, into the Village from the World Science Festival in Washington Square. (Pearl was our first thought but it wasn't open yet.)

                    PayOrPlayJr. saw lobster ravioli on the blackboard menu and was going to order it but then decided he really just wanted spaghetti and meat sauce--which turned out to be very, very tasty, if a little on the sweet side (not a problem for him, or me). I went with the mixed seafood grill: all of it was at least fine, but there were a few standouts, best of all the scallop, of which there was unfortunately only one. It came with a huge side of garlcky escarole, which was unsubtle but very tasty. Portions were huge, leaving us too stuffed for an immediate real dessert so we walked a bit and and we went for Italian ice across the street at Rocco's.

                    By the way, we both got tap water with no problem at all. (I was craving a glass of prosecco, or something similar, but by the glass the waiter only offered "white or chianti." Obviously I was not in a position to order a whole bottle, so I went without.) The service was not effusive but functional enough.

                    In sum: not a gourmet meal by a long shot, but fairly priced (for New York) and a fun, high-quality father-son dinner that left us on a bit of a high as we made our way back uptown.

                    1. I find it disgraceful that a place wouldn't have tap water. I think I may have gotten up and left on the spot.