Corinthian columns dotting the side lawn, a gladiator sandal on the host station—all hints that in this airy Craftsman-style house off Maple Avenue, Julian Barsotti and his lead chefs (Ryan Ferguson, previously sous-chef at Nonna; Scott Lewis previously sous-chef at Carbone’s) are willing us spiritually closer to Rome.
A full review of this, Barsotti’s third restaurant will follow, but for now, a few nibbles, a few sips to whet your appetite. Starting with the bruschetta classica, which may surprise you: no tomatoes, no basil. Just the house skillet sourdough, wonderfully chewy with good flavor, served with whipped butter infused with rosemary. Or used, as we did, to scoop up the tomato sauce, bright and silky and softened with olive oil, that surrounded squash blossoms stuffed with mozzarella–not fried, but gently poached in that marvelously simple sauce, which I could have spooned over any number of things.
This is a place for assembling small bites and sharing them. An evening is better for a dalliance with a chilled salad of octopus, potatoes, fresno chiles, and olives. Or a Roman-style pizza you’ll smell from across the room: mozzarella, caciocavallo cheese, and a sweet, mahogany-colored drift of caramelized onions. Just when you feel you might fall into an caramelized-onion trance, the blistered crackle of the crust brings you back to earth.
My friend, who prefers her drinks sweet and bubbly, loved the Rossini with strawberry puree, strawberry brandy, and Prosecco—“a little sister to the Bellini,” the bartender said as he leaned in between a limpid Martini and a fetching drink getting its splash of Cynar. The house style is not for sternly bitter drinks. I’m a huge fan of Suze, the other Campari, and so loved the cameo appearance it made in the Negroni alongside Tequila blanco, Vermouth, and Strega. It was a lovely, balanced Negroni. And the wine list, focused on the wines of Southern Italy, is worth serious perusal. You’ll find a lovely Sicilian Etna Rosso, but I loved seeing, too, so many wines from Sardegna, that wild island, and from the overlooked region of Puglia. Roman food goes well with wines that get a little feisty.
Missing are only the sprays of droplets from the Trevi fountain.