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Feb 15, 2010 01:19 PM

Time for a pasta binge - who's the best?

Hello all, longtime lurker, first time (as far as I can remember) poster.

I've been on a bit of a diet lately, namely, I've greatly reduced my consumption of grains, starches and sugars. I've made a lot of progress, and am happily eating lots of meats, seafood, eggs, dairy, veggies, fruit and nuts. BUT. As easy and tasty as my diet has been, I have always been a pasta fiend. Killing a whole one pound box of spaghetti with butter, grated cheese and tomato concentrate was one of my favorite dinners. I haven't had pasta in two months now!!! I'm planning to go on a celebratory pasta binge. I deserve it. Which restos are the best? Is Babbo still good or are they coasting on their reputation and a never ending flow of tourists? Is Del Posto better? What about Michael White's restaurants? I ate at Marea and had the 12 course crudo/pasta tasting and was underwhelmed. So I'd like to rule Marea out. I'm curious about Scarpetta, but I'm a bit skeptical at the same time. Il Mulino has good press. And Sifton's review of Novitá made the pastas sound like they were worth the detour. My plan is to sit down and eat at least six courses of pasta. So I would prefer a place that would have a tasting menu structure in place, or would be amenable to my request of such. Any and all suggestions are welcome. Thank you!

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  1. The Babbo pasta tasting menu would be perfect! I still love Babbo though you will find some on this board dislike all Batali spots.

    3 Replies
    1. re: stephaniec25

      i 2nd babbo's pasta tasting. i believe you're allowed to sub two of the pastas too in case a few dont interest you.

      1. re: daffyduck

        I 3rd Babbo if you want pasta. We've had their pasta tasting menu a few well as created our own 'pasta' tasting by ordering a few pasta dishes from the menu pasta selections and sharing. IMHO, Babbo excels at pasta...I wasn't as wow'ed by the pasta at Lupa nor Del Posto.

        1. re: synergy

          Lupa is a lot cheaper. Based on one visit to Babbo, I would agree with you.

    2. Del Posto is surely not better. Novita, why? Sifton, who cares. Il Mulino, forget that.Not bad but not worth it. Had an absolutely abominable pasta dish at Convivio(actually, a table mate had it) but would not completely write it off. Have never eaten at Scarpetta but I am skeptical much as you are. Babbo might be slipping, I cannot say for sure. I used to be quite regular but no longer and have not gone at all in some time. My most frequent dining mate there said it was just a tad under the glory days but that was just one meal. I would just go Babbo and hope it is not a mess. But the haters will be out, shortly. I am neither hater nor lover.Some Batali spots deserved praise, some not. Another note, Lupa(which I used to really dig)has disappointed the last 2 times. That is a bad sign but there does not seem to be anywhere doing it as flawlessly as it should be done.

      16 Replies
      1. re: dietndesire

        dietndesire - you are a tough critic!

        I love Scarpetta and the pasta is always wonderful, especially the spaghetti with tomato sauce. I thought Babbo would be nice since they do have the set tasting menu and it has not slipped in my opinion.

        1. re: stephaniec25

          Becco's Becco's 22.99 all you can eat!

          1. re: wojiparu

            You know, I'm very very curious about this. How is the quality though? Is it good or is it pedestrian stuff for the Broadway Show going crowds?

            1. re: simon838

              Becco's ayce pastas are mediocre. What's more, they've jammed as many tables as is possible into every room, and the noise level is so insanely high that shouting is the only way to carry on a conversation. Way back when Becco first opened, the food was quite good, and it wasn't as packed as it is now with either tables or people. I would suggest staying far, far away.

              1. re: simon838

                All homemade pasta you cant beat it! All you can eat homemade pasta, its great. Been there a dozen times!

          2. re: dietndesire

            Sifton and Novitá - well, I like the way he writes, and the way he gushed over the pasta, well, it sounded convincing. But I also understand that this wouldn't be in the same league as the Babbo's etc. of this world.

            Convivio is a no? I must say the menu sounds tempting. What about Alto?

            1. re: simon838

              Chef Michael White is a master with pastas. The ones we've had at Convivio's were excellent, but it was quite a while ago, and they are not on the current menu.

              However, we've been to Alto and Marea much more recently, and in both instances, the pastas we tried were insanely delicious.

              Photos of Duck and Foie Gras Ravioli at Alto:

              Photos of Agnolotti with Veal, Sweetbreads & Funghi at Marea:

              Another place to consider is Scarpetta, specifically for Scott Conant's Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil. Simple but a mind-blower.

              Spaghetti with Tomato & Basil:

              Start with Conant's signature polenta with wild mushrooms, have dessert -- the olive oil cake is wonderful -- and you will have a truly memorable meal.

              Polenta with Wild Mushrooms:

              Olive Oil Cake:

              1. re: RGR

                Like I said, I went to Marea right before the new year, and had the twelve course crudi and pasta tasting menu. The pastas were all overwhelmingly salty. It wasn't the sauce, it was the actual pasta water that had been over salted. I know this because some of the pastas weren't fully dressed with sauce in each dish so I could taste them "naked" and all were too salty. I was sitting at the bar, and mentioned it to the bartender. He answered "yes, they tend to have a heavy hand with the salt here." And it's not like I was there late and the water had become too salty by the end of the night. I sat down to eat at 8:30.

                So as beautifully crafted, luxurious and well cooked as they were, I am leery to go back and spend that kind of money there again. It could've been a fluke. It could be that they are too aggressive with the salt. I'm gong to give Marea some time before going back.

                Right now I must say I'm leaning towards Babbo, but Alto and Convivio both look great too. Just worried they might adhere to the same salt philosophy as Marea.

                1. re: simon838

                  I didn't look back on your original post so missed the part where you talked about going to Marea. I'm fairly salt-sensitive, but didn't notice any over-salting there either with the agnolotti, which are well-sauced and has strong flavors, or with our main course fish selections. However, St. Pierre (John Dory) was too dry.

                  There are different chefs de cuisine at Alto and Convivio, so they may not have as heavy a hand with the salt in the pasta water. I did not notice any over-salting at either. I think it's worth going to Alto just to have the duck & foie gras ravioli.

                2. re: RGR

                  So, RGR, you've got me in a dilemma! And it's like you read my mind.

                  I'm going to Scarpetta tonight for dinner. First visit. Have heard raves about the polenta and the chestnut soup. Was going to go with the latter, but your picture is making me drool! They're both served as apps, yes?

                  Was also planning on having the spaghetti w/tomato & basis. Did not know it comes in half portion. That will help me from overeating tonight.

                  And finally, was going to finish the meal with the olive oil cake.

                  1. re: gloriousfood

                    This is probably too late and you're already at the restaurant and have made up your mind. That said....

                    Yes, they are both appetizers. I suppose you could start with the soup, follow it with the polenta, have the half portion of spaghetti, and end with the olive oil cake. But, then that would defeat your supposed goal of not overeating, especially since the polenta is exceedingly rich and filling.

                    So, here's a thought. The polenta with mushrooms is on the menu all the time while the chestnut soup (which I haven't had) is a seasonal item, i.e., served only during the winter. Ergo, have the soup this time and the polenta when you go again -- which I'm sure you will want to do.

                    1. re: gloriousfood

                      > Did not know it comes in half portion.

                      I believe that Scarpetta will kindly plate a pasta onto separate plates if you plan to split it but won't let you acually order a 1/2 portion.

                      BUT they do have half portions at half the regular price, on the late night menu in the bar/front area after 10pm.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Here's my report on dinner last night.

                        My friend and I both had the tasting menu. We started with the raw yellowtail, the tuna susci, the polenta, and the fritto misto. Can I just say--WOW! Everything was super fresh and delicious. The polenta rightfully deserves all the raves it's gotten, but the fritto misto was the surprise of the bunch--just the right amount of crispiness and not at all greasy. In fact, it tasted surprisingly light, and my friend and I could not get enough of it.

                        We then moved on to the spaghetti with tomato and basil (could see why this is one of the chef's signature dishes), the duck & foie gras ravioli, and the short rib agnolotti (would be happy just having this alone!).

                        For the fish course (we were able to substitute the goat for another fish), we had the black cod and the branzino. The branzino was my least favorite of all the dishes we had. For one, I thought it smelled extremely fishy--like ammonia. My friend did not think so, so he ate most of it. Also, the presentation was very unattractive. I had to look at it for a while just to make sure there was fish on the plate.

                        Dessert was the banana budino (a bit dry) and the chestnut cake (I think).

                        Service was wonderful. Our waiter took the time to explain everything, even the desserts, and was attentive throughout the meal. We were greeted promptly at the front door. The only odd thing to happen was when we were asked if we wanted to sit in the front (no) or the back (yes). When I replied "the back," the woman asked me if I "was sure." Um, yes, I am!

                        Overall, my friend and I enjoyed our meal here tremendously and would definitely go back. Thanks for all your helpful suggestions! (Btw, I was underwhelmed by the bread basket, but it didn't meet my expectations only b/c of what I've read about it. It was fine for what it was--nothing more, nothing less.)

                        1. re: gloriousfood

                          Thanks for the report, gloriousfood. Pleased to hear that your experience at Scarpetta was excellent.

                          1. re: RGR

                            Thank *you* for your helpful suggestions.

                1. Wow, thanks for all the feedback guys. One thing that puzzles me though, is that all the suggestions have been for very well known restaurants. I'm surprised that no one has chimed in with some low profile neighborhood spot. I know my friends in LIC rave about a place called Mandicotti's (sp?) and I've heard decent things about Sapori d'Ischia. Granted my question was for places in Manhattan, or BK. But no one has a local, non celebrity chef, non pr machine driven restaurant that they think serves great pasta? I'm a little surprised.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: simon838

                    There is really no such thing as "low profile" unless it simply isn't very good,. at least in Manhattan. Nothing remains "undiscovered" unless it is not worth bothering with. Funny you should mention Manducatis (correct spelling) as I ate there years ago and couldn't understand why the locals were so enamored of it, it was totally ordinary IMO.

                    1. re: simon838

                      If you want recommendations for the Outer Boroughs, post to the Outer Boroughs board, but I'll tell you that I had a great meal a few years ago at Al Di La', and my meal at Babbo blew that out of the water by at least 10 feet. And it's an apt comparison, because I had Casunziei at both places. Of course my meal at Al Di La' was at least $30 cheaper, per person, including more wine than I had at Babbo.

                    2. Sifton is absolutely correct, Novita has a very good pasta menu, and it's worth a visit. Here's my review. Full version at

                      As the Batalis and Whites of the world continue to furiously expand their haute-Italian empires at lightning pace, and amidst the sudden awakening in public awareness towards the simple pleasures of traditional Italian fare, let us not lose sight of those who came prior. New York City has always been somewhat a mecca for Italian cuisine, and long before the trend towards the locally sourced, the rise of the organic movement, there has always existed, scattered among the hip artisanal newcomers and lavish Meatpacking palazzos, a solid core of neighborhood Italian restaurants committed to traditional, home-style cooking. Novita, a Flatiron District staple, is such an establishment. Here, Chef Marco Fregonese displays a dedication to the hearty, the warm and the authentic that oozes in equal measure old-world charm and a modern sophistication.

                      The dining room at Novita could be described as romantic – dim yellow hues cast by half-lit sconces envelop each table, and the service is efficient and discreet, never getting in the way of conversation. It could also be described to a certain extent as corporate, a function of the dinnertime crowd more than the restaurant itself. Power suits and stilettos seem to be the attire of choice, and the crowd here is a far cry from the beard and plaid set at more fashionable downtown restaurants. Instead, you are more likely to encounter a sea of salt and pepper hair and floral shawls. Midday, it tends to be more of a mixed bag: a couple of brunchaholic stalwarts, a few tables of elderly Italian regulars, and a smattering of young professionals who live in the neighboring Gramercy area. Sidewalk seating is popular when the weather gets warmer. The food quality remains mostly good no matter the season.

                      The selection of starters at Novita is extensive, and there are a number of highlights. They serve a fantastic Funghi Ripieni: discs of breaded, fried shiitake mushrooms, stuffed with bits of shrimp and scallions. They taste earthy and sweet, with a crispy exterior and a soft, mealy interior. Each cross-section is a kaleidoscope of colors and textures, each bite-sized piece an airy, fragrant treat. Novita’s list of daily specials usually showcases one or two standouts, ask your server for an opinion – in my experience the waitstaff is knowledgeable, and usually relatively candid (in an endearingly Italian way). On a recent visit, a monstrous portion of Insalata di Polpo proved quite tasty. Tender pieces of steamed octopus meat, a molehill-sized heap of mixed greens, and a zesty dressing – a lovely balanced achieved. I have had my fair share of poorly cooked octopus, the firmness of the meat ranging the gamut between rubbery latex and mushy potatoes at either extreme of the spectrum. Novita’s octopus is cooked superbly, the chunks of faint purple tentacles tender and juicy – akin in consistency to a medium-done tenderloin steak. Lovely. It is also hard to go wrong with Novita’s Carpaccio di Manzo con Tartufi Neri, a delicious spread of melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef with crisp arugula, a shaving of Parmigiano and decadent black truffles. With constituent ingredients of such quality, raw is the best way to go.

                      The pasta dishes at Novita are very good, if not up to the otherworldly standards of newer places such as Michael White’s Osteria Morini and (formerly Michael White’s) Convivio. The various pasta types I have sampled here all display a calculated thickness and a distinct chewiness that seem more a reflection of the Chef’s style than a purposeful slight to the predilection displayed by most diners nowadays for al dente. Chef Fregonese has an endearing fixation on making his pastas larger than life. A dish of Seafood Calamarata al Nero di Seppia features massive, inky black rings of pasta. Any bigger and a chihuahua could do the hula with these. They taste gorgeous – briny like the sea, and chewy in the most unobtrusive way possible. Covered in a thin layer of savory, Cioppino-esque sauce, with a generous topping of equally sized tomato chunks (sweet) and shrimp bits (juicy), this dish is a winner. Similarly, Rigatoni con Tonno flaunts a mountain of mammoth-sized pasta, each tube of rigatoni large enough to serve as a sleeping bag for a small hamster. One bite isn’t enough to down each starchy beast, two could be a stretch; three is appropriate if you are on a date and want to avoid looking like a slobbering glutton with bad etiquette. Slices of seared Yellowfin tuna the size of Ritz crackers top the dish off, soft and smoky, among a heady meadow of chopped olive bits. The olives can at times overpower the subtle flavor of the tuna, but to what extent depends on how balanced the manner you pack each forkful. Spaghetti con Vongole is passable – a little too salty, a little too oily, but the dish is saved by the sheer flavorsome freshness of pristine manila clams and the comforting sharpness of garlic (a condiment that in my opinion takes most dishes up a notch). Orecchiette con Salsiccia Piccante, a classic Southern Italian dish of ear-shaped pasta, spicy sausage and broccoli rabe, is a letdown, overly rich to the point of buttery, sickly saturation. The pasta is rough and heavy without the right amount of resistance with each chew, and I have certainly had better renditions elsewhere, including just down the street at Bar Stuzzichini. A rare misstep in what is otherwise a very good pasta menu.

                      Novita is a cozy little gem in an area of town untouched by the superficialities of the often faddy New York City restaurant scene. It maintains a loyal following, among both city dwellers and dedicated suburban pilgrims, largely due to its down to earth style of cooking and unpretentious environment. Don’t expect fireworks at Novita, but do make a reservation in advance and look forward to honest, homely cuisine served with a glass of house red and a smile.