Few locations on the earth have meals as eclectic as that of Sicily. Solely 87 miles from the coast of North Africa, and central to international commerce routes that introduced new foodstuffs and spices over the millennia, it was ruled successively by Greece, Rome, Germanic tribes, the Byzantine Empire, the Arabs, France, Spain, and eventually, Italy, which didn’t take possession of the island till 1860. The meals of Sicily displays all these influences to 1 extent or one other.
Sicilian contributions have lengthy been a cornerstone of Italian American meals, however we’ve recently had an inflow of eating places that take a extra fashionable method, together with Piccola Cucina Estiatorio. Situated close to the nook of Spring and Thompson streets in Soho, the identify implies that the menu concentrates on the Greek influences that pervade Sicilian meals (“estiatorio” is sort of Greek restaurant fancier than a country “taverna”). And certainly, seafood is the first focus of this superb institution that appears to have largely escaped the discover of meals publications and restaurant critics because it opened in 2017.
The restaurant is a part of a series whose proprietor and chef is Philip Guardione. He was born close to town of Catania, on the southeast coast of Sicily within the shadow of Mount Etna. He now owns and runs three equally named, Sicilian-themed eating places in Manhattan, one in Ibiza, and one other in Crimson Lodge, Montana. Piccola Cucina means “little kitchen,” and never solely is the kitchen diminutive, so is the eating room, with intently spaced tables, which refill each night beginning round 6 p.m. So go earlier should you hope to snag a walk-in desk.
The place is embellished with nautical ropes that cling from the ceiling and in addition bind a choice of wine bottles to the partitions — an expensive pan-Italian listing with disappointingly few bottles from Sicily. A handful of spectacular starters beckon. Conserving with its theme of Greek and Sicilian cooking, a plate of 5 grilled sardines ($20.50) is introduced, a beneficiant quantity for the worth, dotted with kalamata olives and the merest sprinkling of dried herbs.
Fried calamari, esteemed as bar meals internationally, is Sicily’s most well-known culinary contribution. Right here, it’s a part of an impressive all-seafood fritto misto, which incorporates fish, shellfish, shrimp — and there’s even a battered and fried sardine that appears to be launching itself from the highest of the pile. Although word that the creature is more durable to eat in its breaded kind. (Sardine lovers ought to order the fish grilled.)
Identify-checking the chef’s house city, arancino Catanese ($15.95) is a trio of small fried rice balls. A meaty ragu pours out if you minimize into them, and two sauces — one white and dairy, the opposite inexperienced and natural — serve to ramp up the flavour. What these rice balls lack in dimension, they nearly make up for in style — although should you’re accustomed to the gargantuan rice balls that roll out of Sicilian pizzerias, these could also be a little bit of a disappointment.
A whole part of the menu gives uncooked seafood, which has apparently change into standard in fashionable Sicily. Trio di carpaccio ($23.95) rigorously aligns planks of what is likely to be Japanese sashimi on prime of one other fish to create a visible spectacle. The fish is especially scrumptious when wolfed alternately with slices of mandarin orange that visually enliven the iced presentation.
The stability of the menu is especially pastas, of which two I significantly suggest. Showcasing the primacy of eggplant amongst Sicilian greens (a choice that will have been introduced from North Africa and the Center East), maccheroni Norma options hand-rolled and tapered ropes of pasta in a tomato sauce with ricotta and the cubed purple, pear-shaped vegetable. Observe that one other worthy dish, a largely unbreaded eggplant parmigiana, seems among the many appetizers, although it might serve equally effectively as an entree. One other must-order pasta consists of the quick, grooved, and tubular paccheri ($24.95) tossed with an plentiful octopus ragu. The eight-armed cephalopod imparts a mildly gluey and rubbery texture to the sauce that, fairly actually, holds the entire dish collectively.
There are a few skippable dishes, nonetheless, together with a Greek salad that arrived almost undressed, with a lot feta it eclipsed the opposite elements. Sadly, the cannoli had shells so thick that they may have cracked a tooth, and tasted like they’d been stuffed lengthy earlier than — which breaks the first rule of cannoli that they merely have to be stuffed to order.
The wine listing is jammed with bottles within the over $100 vary, suggesting Piccola Cucina Estiatorio is at the least partly aimed toward huge spenders, which can have one thing to do with the expectations created by the Ibiza department of the restaurant and the worldwide resort vibe it hopes to emulate. Nonetheless, particular person glasses of wine are extra mercifully priced, together with an Etna Bianco Mofete ($16) produced from the carricante and catarratto white grapes grown in volcanic soil. Flinty and refreshing, it goes with almost every thing on the menu— particularly these grilled sardines and that octopus ragu.