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Gemma

The cuisine is secondary to the parade of fashionable downtowners.

335 Bowery, at Third St. (212) 505-9100
Dinner: Seven days. Breakfast and lunch: Monday through Friday. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday.
CUISINE Modern Italian trattoria
VIBE Casual bustle
OCCASION Group dinner or date
DON’T-MISS DISH Four-seasons pizza; cedar-plank-roasted sea bass.
DRINK SPECIALTY Acqua di Gemma – sparkling and flat water filtered and bottled in-house, $4 a bottle.
PRICE Appetizers, $5-$12; entrées, $14-$39; desserts, $3-$10.
RESERVATIONS Available only to Bowery Hotel guests. So go early, and prepare to wait at the bar.

As the masses descend upon this decorated spot – dripping with
candles, wine bottles and chunky chandeliers – it’s become clear that
Gemma has managed to wed the glamour of exclusivity with the democratic
accessibility of a no-reservation policy. Owners Sean MacPherson and
Eric Goode have seamlessly bridged the gap between two of their
brainchildren: the elitist Waverly Inn, with its unlisted phone number
and long-lingering “preview menu,” and the people-pleasing
approachability of La Bottega’s Italian plates.

Gemma performs on a notably self-conscious stage, one that feels a
lot like you’re dining on the set of a Scorsese production. Despite the
premeditated décor accents, the place has a magnetic charm, but it is
one that upstages the menu – most of which is good enough, but
certainly not a serious culinary endeavor.

The trattoria’s handsome and lengthy front bar is now an obligatory
rite of passage to securing a table in the sprawling dining room.

In collaboration with the owners, architect Taavo Somer (of
Freeman’s) delivers high wood-beamed ceilings, dangling wrought-iron
chandeliers above the banquettes, and rustic farmhouse tables. An open
kitchen and French doors lend a breezy, al fresco element to the
otherwise warm setting.

The cuisine is as democratic as the reservation system: There is something for everyone, and nothing requires a glossary.

The menu is peppered with a generous selection of antipasti,
wood-fired pizza, charcuterie and pasta. The end result: The pizzas
will delight, the pastas disappoint, but it is the roasted sea bass
that may compel you to return…

The chef, Chris D’Amico, also triumphs with a silky bream dish
sprinkled with fried sage leaves, capers and sea salt. Equally, a
sheath of black-truffle paté and lemon arouses amply fresh sea scallops.

Yet there are inconsistencies throughout the menu. The fava and
escarole salad and the sliced artichokes both revealed themselves to be
blander than the ingredients suggest. A watermelon salad arrived as a
casualty: A few traces of ricotta, pine nuts and a measly scattering of
rocket greens amounted to a soggy assemblage.

Still, the burrata was buttery and the mushroom crostini came
decadently smothered in truffle-laced cremini, shiitake and button
mushrooms.

The cedar-plank roasted sea bass (branzino) – the best entrée by a
landslide – turned up exceptionally smoky and moist, paired with
vibrant broccoli rabe. The rest? An excessively fatty porkchop, a
deflated brick-oven chicken and a swordfish that would have been better
left unskewered.

The safest road to travel is the selection of pizzas. They emerge
rustic and warm from the wood oven, fragrant robiola cheese tucked
between two wafer-thin slices of charred focaccia. Even better is the
four-seasons pizza, delightfully topped with a scattering of fresh
artichokes, basil, mushrooms and crispy prosciutto.

The enormous wood oven also births sweet sensations, including an
excellent dessert calzone. Delivered to the table on a wooden plank,
melting Nutella and gooey ricotta spill out of its doughy shell – a
fitting end to a theatrical meal on the Bowery.

The chef, Chris D’Amico, also triumphs with a silky bream dish
sprinkled with fried sage leaves, capers and sea salt. Equally, a
sheath of black-truffle paté and lemon arouses amply fresh sea scallops.

Yet there are inconsistencies throughout the menu. The fava and
escarole salad and the sliced artichokes both revealed themselves to be
blander than the ingredients suggest. A watermelon salad arrived as a
casualty: A few traces of ricotta, pine nuts and a measly scattering of
rocket greens amounted to a soggy assemblage.

Still, the burrata was buttery and the mushroom crostini came
decadently smothered in truffle-laced cremini, shiitake and button
mushrooms.

The cedar-plank roasted sea bass (branzino) – the best entrée by a
landslide – turned up exceptionally smoky and moist, paired with
vibrant broccoli rabe. The rest? An excessively fatty porkchop, a
deflated brick-oven chicken and a swordfish that would have been better
left unskewered.

The safest road to travel is the selection of pizzas. They emerge
rustic and warm from the wood oven, fragrant robiola cheese tucked
between two wafer-thin slices of charred focaccia. Even better is the
four-seasons pizza, delightfully topped with a scattering of fresh
artichokes, basil, mushrooms and crispy prosciutto.

The enormous wood oven also births sweet sensations, including an
excellent dessert calzone. Delivered to the table on a wooden plank,
melting Nutella and gooey ricotta spill out of its doughy shell – a
fitting end to a theatrical meal on the Bowery.

Gemma. 335 Bowery, at Third St. (212) 505-9100
Dinner: Seven days. Breakfast and lunch: Monday through Friday. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday.
CUISINE Modern Italian trattoria
VIBE Casual bustle
OCCASION Group dinner or date
DON’T-MISS DISH Four-seasons pizza; cedar-plank-roasted sea bass.
DRINK SPECIALTY Acqua di Gemma – sparkling and flat water filtered and bottled in-house, $4 a bottle.
PRICE Appetizers, $5-$12; entrées, $14-$39; desserts, $3-$10.
RESERVATIONS Available only to Bowery Hotel guests. So go early, and prepare to wait at the bar.

Ratings guide

4 stars: Sheer perfection
3 1/2 stars: Truly exceptional
3 stars: Outstanding
2 1/2 stars: Great night out
2 stars: A safe bet
1 1/2 stars: Hit or miss
1 star: Disappointing

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