Front Row for Opening Night at L'Artusi
Opening night at restaurants can get very hectic, and I tend to stay away from them. Especially if I know they'll be extra-hectic because it's the second restaurant from a team that inspires the kind of excitement engendered by, say, ’N Sync back in the day. I'm thinking, of course, of the just-barely-opened L'Artusi, from the adorable guys who own the West Village's Dell'anima. Still, my friend and I decided to brave the odds and try to get a table—or at least a drink—and see just how crazy the scene was. As luck would have it, we eventually scored two seats at the now-endless bar that very vaguely recalls Maremma, the restaurant that used to occupy the space. And those two seats were prime—the only two facing the wide-open kitchen. I've become obsessed with open kitchens, and I think it's a result of watching too much Top Chef. At any minute, I expect to see a chef volubly losing it or Tom Colicchio marching through to inspect the disastrous results of a hot dog Quick Fire Challenge. No such luck at L'Artusi—while the dining room was packed up and it was SRO at the hostess stand, the kitchen was remarkably calm. There wasn't so much as an eye roll when chef Gabe Thompson walked around checking out plates. So the lack of drama in the kitchen might have been disappointing, but the food was mostly lovely. I'm now obsessed with their earthy roasted mushrooms mixed with fregola, and they do terrific smashed fried potatoes with salsa verde that might rival Convivio's for spud of the year. I'm also a fan of their pizzocheri, the buckwheat pasta dish with Brussels sprout leaves and bechamel sauce that's baked in individual bowls. Afterward, we talked to the crazy-young wine director/owner, Joe Campanale, who confessed that since he lives above Dell'anima, L'Artusi is somewhat of a commute for him (it's about 5 blocks away). Then we let him talk to his fans, who were still packing the room on opening night.