Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bits & Morsels - Summer dining al fresco

Grilled octopus served over potatoes all’amatriciana at Corsino.

by Erin Frankel

Summer is finally here! And that means it's time for some al fresco dining ... brunch, lunch, dinner, and drinks! For those that don’t mind the incessant honking and congested sidewalks, here are some of my favorite downtown haunts equipped with large outdoor spaces, delicious and reliable grub, chilled cocktails, and, the best of people watching.

Five Points is an old-school neighborhood favorite set on a quiet cobblestone street in a once-sleepy NoHo. Five Points has been a brunch classic in New York City for years and cfef Marc Meyer’s cooking still impresses. While the restaurant's interior is a large and open social meeting ground, an intimate outdoor seating area is available during the warmer summer days. Meyer’s seasonal Nouveau American menu is always changing and never neglects a particular taste bud. However, I do suggest sticking with the brunch classics. Two favorites include the Eggs In Cocotte, which is a mixture of cooked Westfield goat cheese, root vegetables, mixed greens, and baguette toast; or the new healthy addition to the menu, a poached egg perched atop a mixture of fresh mushrooms and English peas. Meyer’s food is organic and locally sourced and most everything is deliciously sweet, fresh and on point.
Eggs In Cocotte. Cooked westfield goat cheese, root vegetables, mixed greens, and baguette toast;
Poached eggs with mushrooms and English peas.
Five Points
31 Great Jones Street
Pulino's is Keith McNally’s newest addition to his restaurant empire in New York City. McNally has a knack for finding the best intersections, and for Pulino's, he brilliantly chose Bowery and Houston, a bustling corner for any scene-seeker. The interior of Pulino's is extraordinary even though it mirrors all of McNally’s other restaurants in the format of a classic French Brasserie (here it is Italian). In balmy weather, the large windows open to a spacious outdoor sidewalk seating area where majestic views of the busy intersection of Bowery and Houston (where NoHo, Nolita, The East Village, SoHo, and The Lower East Side all come together) await.

This is definitely the place for people watching of every kind but also for the inventive flavors of eggs and thin-crusted pizzas; and the combination of the two, aptly called “Breakfast Pizzas." Most recently, I opted for two new seasonal non-pizza additions to the menu. I started with a simple arugula and radish salad, which is topped with a zesty lemon olive-oil dressing and shaved parmesan. I moved on to the very tasty eggs in concote mixed with spicy roasted peppers, onions, tomatoes, and olives. That was it for this meal, but there are too many sweet and savory dishes on Pulino's new spring menu not to come back, especially now that the weather has turned.
Eggs in concote mixed with spicy roasted peppers, onions, tomatoes, and olives.
Arugula and radish salad, topped with a zesty lemon olive-oil dressing and shaved parmesan.
Pulino's Bar & Pizzeria
282 Bowery
New York, NY 10012-3674
Gemma. Set inside of The Bowery Hotel, one of the swankiest in town, Gemma offers a sophisticated take on familiar Italian food with a chic-y, bohemian vibe. Yes, the dining room is rustic and romantic, but the real reason to come to Gemma, now that the sun is finally shining, is for its large outdoor area set right on the busy but haute corner of Bowery and 3rd Street. Sit under the heated lamps at one of the farm-style tables made of distressed wood and order a bottle of rosé or Sauvignon Blanc to start your meal. The menu is fashioned after a traditional Italian menu with a section of antipasti, crunchy crostini, crudi, salume, a selection of Italian cheeses, pastas, and wood-fired pizzas.

I suggest starting with a selection of crostini, my favorites being the olive tapenade and goat cheese, the buffalo ricotta and pesto, and the burrata and prosciutto ... all meant for sharing. Then I would move on to the beets, mizzuna, goat cheese, and pistachios salad, and my all-time favorite here, the burrata caprese, which is made with one of the richest, creamiest burrata you'll ever have. All of the wood-fired pizzas and pastas are delicious, but my recommendation for a light and fresh starch is the penne alla norma, which is made with eggplant, ricotta salata, and tomato sauce. If you are looking for a trendy scene and comforting and fresh Italian cuisine, Gemma is your new outdoor spot.
An assortment of crostinis. Beets, mizzuna, goat cheese, and pistachios salad.
Burrata caprese. Penne alla norma (eggplant, ricotta salata, and tomato sauce).
335 Bowery
Corsino. Jason Denton, owner of the famed ‘ino, inoteca, and inoteca liquori bar, has opened yet another Italian tapas restaurant that is equal parts delicious and vibrant. Set in the old Frederick’s space on the hot West Village/Meatpacking corner of Hudson and Horatio street, Corsino’s large outdoor seating area is prime real-estate for the swankiest of people-watching on a warm summer night. Start with a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc and then share any selection of the small, moderately priced dishes on the menu, such as the crostini. My favorite two are the olive tapenade and the radicchio and goat cheese.
Olive tapenade and the radicchio and goat cheese crostini.
I suggest the thick (yet delicate) Tuscan white bean soup or, if you opt for a salad, the reliable baby arugula salad with pears, walnuts, and red onion. For a nutritious choice, try the roasted beets topped with a delicious yogurt and balsamic encrusted pistachios. To more fully reap the rewards of the season, order the grilled octopus served over potatoes all’amatriciana. It is graceful, light and pleasing to the palate. If you can score a table, you’ll have a front row to the nightly promenade up and down Hudson Street.
Roasted beets.
Tuscan white bean soup.
Arugula salad.
637 Hudson Street
Photographs by Erin Frankel.
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