Barchetta – Reviewed
**** – Four Stars (Out of Five)
Vibe: Nautical chic
Don’t Miss: Razor Clams, Arctic Char Crudo, & Lobster Fettuccine
Don’t Bother: Soft Shell Crabs with Melon
Finish With: Goat Cheese Semifreddo
Final Word: Pasternack once again proves his magical way with seafood.
These days a chef isn’t just, well, a chef. Some are TV chefs who have a token restaurant or don’t have a restaurant at all. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Ina Garten is a killer cook and she doesn’t own an eatery.) Some have lines of cookware and shelves of their own cookbooks. Others are pure kitchen guys who rarely make an appearance in the dining room, while some manage to be businessmen who build dining empires.
But it’s really hard to pin down Dave Pasternack. He’s not a TV chef, that’s for sure. Nope, he’s more of a kitchen guy, who happily makes appearances in the dining room in his chef coat, knee-length shorts and sneakers. He doesn’t have an empire and he’s not really a business guy per se, but he is slowly and surely expanding his reach. Been to Esca? Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich may take center stage here, but the real star is Dave Pasternack, who’s working his magic on the fruits of the sea. And what about Batali and Bastianich’s Il Pesce NYC, the seafood spot in Eataly? Pasternack’s the wizard pulling the strings behind the curtain there, too.
Now, Pasternack’s finally got a restaurant of his own, called Barchetta, located in Chelsea. He’s teamed up with LDV founder, John Meadow, who also commandeered the very successful, Scarpetta & American Cut. My only gripe about Barchetta is the address. Maybe I’m being superstitious, but it makes me nervous because so many others have tested their luck in the very same space and failed. Years ago, it was Amy Sacco’s Bette, then Alain Allegretti’s La Promenade De Anglais, and now Barchetta.
Hopefully, third time’s a charm at this charming spot, tucked into the ground floor of the London Terrace apartments on 23rd Street. The black & white floor tiles that were once framing the bar at La Promenade De Anglais have been replaced by creamy white tiles, the bold gold ceiling is now subtler wood paneling, and the blue velvet banquettes are now a soft brown leather. The breezy, nautical new decor goes perfectly with the nautically-inclined Italian menu. If you’re a seafood lover, Barchetta just might be your new happy place.
I’m a sucker for good crudo, which is why Marea’s always been high on my list. There’s just something about the taste and mouthfeel of freshly caught fish, untouched by any heat, that’s so pure and stunning. There are no less than a whopping fourteen crudos on this menu at Barchetta. If you can’t pick between Spanish Mackerel with Riesling-Poached Raisins, Day Boat Squid with Cilantro and Radish, and Black Sea Bass with a zesty hit of Finger Lime, you can always order the Crudo Tasting for $28, which comes with a sampler of six. Now, I’ve had pork cracklings (crisped up fat and skin) and even chicken cracklings, but fish cracklings? That’s a new one. Pasternack anoints petals of sweet Arctic Char with Wild Fennel Pollen and Cracklings, made from the skin of Arctic Char. Genius. It’s succulent, yet delicate and utterly herbaceous all at the same time. The Pink Snapper, on the other hand, was a much more subdued, yet elegant plate, kissed by Amangansett Rose Wine Salt to deepen the flavor.
I can’t think of a better time for Barchetta to open then on the heels of summer. There are so many light, summery, and gloriously briny flavors flying out of the kitchen here. And you won’t find them solely in the Crudo section. Oh no. There’s an Antipasti of beautifully Charred Octopus with Tim’s Smoked Peppers to tease out maximum smokiness, and Wild Long Island Mussels (who knew Long Island had mussels?), tossed with Broccoli Rabe, salty nibbles of Guanciale, and Crostini. One of my favorites is the Grilled Calamari posed on a bed of the best damn Arugula I’ve had in my life (no exaggeration) from Pasternack’s very own garden in Long Beach. How cool is that?
That’s the chef in a nutshell; A Long Beach boy who loves to garden and fish, a chef who’s not afraid to get dirty and knows his ingredients well. Because you have to understand ingredients to challenge the way we eat them. Which is why I’m so taken with his Grilled Razor Clams. Pasternack tops them with a imaginative melange of Fire-Roasted Leeks, Green Garlic, & Chili. And you’ll notice that he’s not afraid of a little heat: The Fusilli with Surf Clams and Calabrian Chiles was flat out fiery, too spicy for my delicate palate, but the rest of the table finished it off. But I did dig the homemade Fettuccine, tangled around Local Lobster, Spring Onions, English Peas, and fragrant with Sorrel.
I have to admit I found the Antipasti, Primi, and Crudo more intriguing than the Mains, but we did try a few entrees, including Seared Sea Scallops with Summer Squash, Agretti (a crunchy, vibrant green) & Lime. The weakest link on the menu wasn’t the Pan-Seared Soft Shell Crabs with Wild Celery — which happened to be quite tasty — it was the Honey Kiss Melon paired with it, too sweet and wet a partner for this seasonal shellfish. No matter. There are too many great things on the menu to complain.
Even dessert is great, which surprised me as I didn’t recognize the name of the pastry chef, Kate Goodyear (Huckleberry Cafe & Soho House), but I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about her in the future. She makes an excellent Goat Cheese Semifreddo, soft and tangy, paired with macerated cherries and almonds, as well as a good Chocolate Budino with Pink Peppercorns, though I would lose the Tequila Cream. Lest I forget the Cocktails, which are surprisingly creative, like a perfect for summer libation, dubbed the “Zaba” with Maestro Dobel Blanco tequila, Fennel, Citrus and Vino Rosso.
If you want to experience summer by mouth, check out Dave Pasternack’s terrific, new seafood spot in Chelsea.