Despite what you may think, it’s actually quite difficult to find truly tongue tingling Italian food in New York City. You can’t just walk through Little Italy and choose one of the myriad establishments at random. Of course you could just go the safe route and stick with the high-end mainstays like Il Mulino, Marea or Da Silvano. While those may provide amazing meals, they’re painful to the wallet. So where can you go to get a satisfying Italian meal at a price that’s just as palatable? The answer is Fiat Cafe at 203 Mott St.
As the name suggests, the interior is sprinkled with artwork, photos and knick-knacks of the famed Italian automaker. Like I mentioned last week with in my Leunig’s post, I got the sensation of being transported to a small cafe in Italy. Stephane, the owner, is a regular fixture. You’ll see him chatting with his customers which is a welcome site to see in a city where most restaurateurs manage their eateries at arms length. Both occasions I’ve eaten there, he has personally welcomed us and taken our order himself. It doesn’t hurt that he and my friend are quite close!
After we had taken our seats, my friend suggested we enjoy a couple glasses of Montepulciano. Of course I didn’t argue, as I figured it would go perfectly with the pasta I was eyeing, but we’ll get to that in a bit. I let me colleague select a starter, an excellent example of Insalata di Mare. It incorporated some of the freshest calamari and shrimp I’ve ever had, it was so tender I felt it necessary to comment on it. The seafood had the level of quality you’d expect from a fine ceviche. It was lightly tossed with a delicious olive oil, lemon, celery and grape tomato mixture.
The main course was up next. I went with a pasta that I had sampled once before, the decadent Pappardelle with Shitake, Oyster and Crimini mushrooms, duck confit, ragout and truffle oil. If that doesn’t hit all the right buttons I don’t know what does. It was silky from the duck fat and truffle oil, with a great acidity from the tomato. The three different mushrooms were a fantastic flavor compliment and the pappardelle was perfectly cooked.
Daniel chose the pork chop with favas, carrots and mushrooms with a healthy side of truffled polenta. It looked and smelled amazing, and while I was only able to sample the polenta, which was ridiculous, Daniel seemed to enjoy himself as the plate was spotless by the end of the meal! I don’t blame him since I greedily devoured my pappardelle without even offering a bite.
It was just a fantastic experience all around. Fiat Cafe is one of those restaurants where you feel comfortable the instant you walk in the door. However you don’t necessarily have to carry yourself there if you’re feeling lazy. Luckily, my office is within the delivery radius, so when the weather takes a turn for the worst, but I still have a penchant for pasta, I can give them a call and have the exact same quality dish sitting in front of me as I would get if I were there. All three times I’ve ordered in I’ve been impressed with the quality. Usually the food suffers slightly from the trip between restaurant and your door, but Fiat’s pastas hold up quite well. The pappardelle has made an appearance here, as well as the Bucatini a Matriciana, one of my all time favorite Italian dishes. My most recent delivery experience, and another pasta staple for me, was the Spaghetti Carbonara. This pasta is easy to screw up. Often you’ll find it heavy and lethargic from too much cream, cheese or egg. This was anything but. The cheese and pancetta coated my tongue in a velvety layer of flavor. This was offset by a nice amount of red onion that added brightness and helped cut the fat so the flavors could shine through clearer. Totally luxurious and absolutely delicious.
So if you’re looking for an Italian meal that won’t break the bank, while not sacrificing quality, Fiat Cafe is a must. The owner, Stephane Iacovelli has been kind enough to indulge me by answering a few questions, so stay tuned in the days to come for a little more insight into this wonderful SoHo gem. Mangiamo!