Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dinner at SD26 (food)

What's old is new again. While not that long ago San Domenico was considered one of the finest Italian restaurants in the city, the times have changed and the Italian restaurant landscape in NYC has changed with it. So owner Tony May (and his daughter Marisa, whom I recognized in house the night we went) decided to do the whole thing over. It's now located just north of Madison Square Park and named SD26. It's still just as grand, with rumors that the whole move and renovation cost about $7 million, but it's definitely new, and some things are really new.

A prime example of just how new (or rather, modern) SD26 is, is this Enomatic Wine Dispensing Units system, where you use a smart card to record your purchase, grab a glass, and it pours 1oz, 2oz, or 5oz pours based on your selection. Neither of us gave it a try, but it definitely looked interesting.

The place is huge. The main dining room was big. There was a wine cellar below which could sit a table for private dining. There were also private dining rooms upstairs, which the hostess told me could sit about 65 and hold about 180 standing for a cocktail reception.

One of the first things that catch your eye upon entering the main dining room is the salumeria section with a good looking assortment of meats and cheeses.

The open kitchen runs alongside the main dining room.

The other thing that's new, or new to me rather, is the electronic wine list. The touch screen allows you to navigate through the wine list and read descriptions that would take up too much room on a traditional wine list. It's no IPad, but hey, still pretty cool.

On to the food. My friend and I were only in the mood for pasta that night, so we skipped the meats and cheeses, appetizers, and entrees. I know it's not a full review with only pasta, but I did that with Scarpetta too. When I think of really good Italian in NYC, I think pasta. That's just me.

The amuse was a fennel soup with marinated anchovy. I found the soup lighter than I thought it would be, and I liked the marinated anchovy a lot. Some good flavors to start.

The first pasta that we got was the garganelli with american caviar, chives and fish veloute. This was a large (they offer pastas in two sizes) that we shared. The caviar had good flavor and was clearly the main attraction. But the supporting cast was terrific and I enjoyed every mouthful where there was caviar, sauce, and pasta.

Next was the chitarra SD26 with a tomato and basil sauce. The pasta had a perfect texture and felt like it was actually pushed through an old school chitarra. The sauce, however, was very mediocre and tasteless, and a waste of the lovely pasta. This was also a large sized portion which we shared.

No matter how new, some things never change. The signature pasta of the house, the "uovo" soft egg yolk filled raviolo with truffled butter. For this, we each definitely had to get our own.

Cutting open the pasta allows the egg yolk to ooze. This was a delicious and very decadent dish, each bite combining the spinach and ricotta filling with the yolk mixed with the truffled butter. From what I've seen online, this dish is actually one of the options available on the restaurant week menu, and if so is a must get. I don't think I will be going to any RW meals this season, however.

My dessert was the tiramisu. It was good. It was tiramisu. I've had bad tiramisu before, but I haven't had an exemplary one yet.

My friend's dessert was the extra bitter chocolate fondant with stracciatella ice cream. I didn't have any but he said it was good. As can be seen from the photos, the desserts were pretty big.

Assortment of biscotti to round out the meal.

While Sifton's reign as the Times food critic has seen more one and no stars than usual, I felt that this is one of those restaurants that was truly hurt by a one star review, especially when you compare it to Grimes' review of San Domenico 6 years ago. I don't think it's fair for me to give a full review having only had 3 pasta dishes, but there didn't seem to be anything beside the "uovo" that wowed me.

It's meant to be a busy place, for people to drink lots of wine (hence the wine vending machine) and eat a few dishes (hence the different pasta sizes), but I don't think it was intended to be the fine dining experience that San Domenico (which I'd never been to) might originally have been. Since I'm mostly (if not all) about the food, SD26 doesn't appeal to me as much, and I would agree just on the mediocre tomato and basil sauce that it is no more than one star.