A New Star
Spectacular Italian cuisine in the highly anticipated Antipasti
Antipasti’s cold ambiance takes a back seat to its superlative cuisine.
The gorgeous food at Antipasti deserves an environment in which it can be revered. We’d like it delivered to that hilltop patio in Orvieto, please, just as the sun begins its descent in the sky.
Instead, we eat here, in this cavernous banquet hall of a dining room that owes its only warmth to soft amber lighting. The unsophisticated though pleasant servers seem harried, and while they appear eager to please when tableside, getting their attention between visits proves tricky. But never mind all that—we’d return in a nanosecond for this food.
There were a couple of missteps even with the food, but we are more than willing to overlook them. After all, it is like having a dazzling older sister who gets all As; in context, her occasional C looks all the worse. But let’s start by taking a look at those abundant and well-deserved As.
Chef Laakkonen’s dishes expertly unify a cacophony of ingredients
Memories of the chicken liver crostini that appear on nearly every dining table in Florence inspired us to try Antipasti’s seared chicken livers on polenta. The lush, aromatic dish was superb; the thinly crisped skin contained the silken rich liver, cooked to a pink-blush perfection, the meaty flavor intensified by a velvety earthy sauce and musky sautéed mushrooms. Mildly sweet and nutty polenta balanced the deep liver flavor, while a bed of lightly dressed greens added a clear, clean element.
One of the great pleasures of dining at Antipasti is that the food varies in intensity. As robust as the chicken livers were, the squid ink calamarata was more understated, showcasing a single ingredient. In this dish, squid ink colors thick rings of pasta jet black, and bullet-shaped pieces of the squid are scored in an intricate crosshatch pattern that tenderizes the milky white seafood. And in the background, a platform of tomato, white wine, and caper sauce elevates the sweet, mild flavor of the sea.
Chef Rick Laakkonen certainly has the chops to make any kind of culinary music he wants. His impressive background includes serving as executive chef at the River Café (with a young chef named Tyler Florence under his tutelage), stints abroad at such palaces of haute cuisine as Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV in Monaco, and manning the helm at Manhattan’s Petrossian (with Diane Forley as his sous chef), Luxe (where he earned his first New York Times three-star review), Ilo (home to his second three-star review from the New York Times), and Tao.
Is his brodetto of anglerfish, mussels, clams, shrimp, lobster, and calamari the culmination of his years of experience? The dish managed to showcase each ingredient, and marry them in gorgeous harmony. The exquisite tomato broth, flavored with barely more than a suggestion of saffron, unified the elements of the dish but magically seemed to flavor the pasta and merely season the seafood. Chef Laakkonen spun this traditional peasant’s dish into culinary gold.
Is it heresy to mention in the same review the disastrous Piccolo fritto of fish and seafood? The dish was a soggy, greasy mess. As fresh and wonderful as the seafood was elsewhere, here the shrimp tasted of iodine and oil.
Another dish suffered for entirely different reasons. The ragu of grilled polpo and manilla clams was filled with too many undercooked (yes, downright crunchy) cannellini beans to eat around; we gave up in frustration and turned our attention elsewhere. And we hate to report that on another night when we ordered the brodetto, sand—yes, sand—accompanied the crustaceans.
Focus instead on one of two beautifully executed veal dishes. Braised veal practically fell off the shank bone as the plate was set before us; the rich meaty flavor was met with equal gusto on the plate by hearty sautéed black cabbage and a fennel-studded risotto so filled with creamy ricotta that we swore we couldn’t handle even one more bite—and then did. A grilled veal chop, declared by our dining companion as one of the “all-time best” he’d ever eaten, reminded us that veal used to have flavor, and this is what it tasted like. We wondered why the accompanying potato gratin sported four upright toothpicks—did they really hold it together?—but one taste and we didn’t care.
Words cannot do justice to the magical “charred broccoli.” Throw away all your notions of what broccoli is when you bite into the burned-looking tops of these florets: toasty, nutty flavor and crumbles that nearly dissolve in your mouth may remind you, faintly, of broccoli—but not of any broccoli you’ve ever tasted before. Do not miss this dish.
Two “angry” dishes offered two wildly different experiences. “Angry red snapper” was overwhelmed by an otherwise pleasant spicy tomato sauce, eggplant, and romanesco broccoli; for all the beautiful balance found in other dishes, the flavors were muddied and the fish obscured. “Angry lobster,” on the other hand, suffered no such fate: sweet
As generous as most portions were, our hungry dining companion looked crestfallen when a comparatively meager-looking portion of perciatelli faraglione arrived. After the first bite, any look of disappointment disappeared. The heady meat sauce was like Bolognese on steroids. Perhaps the name faraglione refers to the three colossal rocks of
It is challenging to know just how much to order at Antipasti. The menu does not make it clear, and there are many temptations. Pizzettas, baked in an oven visible from much of the dining room, are nearly meals unto themselves. The thin, light crust and simple fresh toppings make these a fine choice to share among two to four people.
There is also a raw bar, and more than 50 hot and cold items served from the antipasti bar. We couldn’t resist trying the burrata, one of four mozzarellas offered. At $24 this is certainly an indulgence, but the incomparably creamy, faintly tangy cheese, which is flown in daily from
Chef Laakkonen is also trained in pastry, and nowhere is that more evident than in the gianduja cake. Luscious bite after bite of creamy intense chocolate hazelnut coats your mouth and seeps its way into your brain. When you think you have floated as far into chocolate land as any human could, the accompanying chocolate hazelnut gelato adds a shock of cold to the same rich flavor profile.
No other dessert could live up to the A+ of the gianduja cake, but a tart-like ricotta cheesecake with vanilla gelato was worthy of attention.
A menu as vast and ambitious as Antipasti’s all but guarantees some missteps, so be prepared. And go there knowing the amateurish service and catering-facility ambiance is not on par with the stellar level of much of the food. But do go there, because what is good at Antipasti is very good indeed.
1 N Broadway,
lunch Mon to Fri 11:30 am-3 pm;
dinner Sun to Thurs 5:30-10 pm, Fri and Sat 5:30-11 pm;
antipasti raw bar Mon to Fri 11:30 am-12:30 am, Sat 5 pm-12:30 am.
★★★★—Outstanding ★★★—Very Good