"If it's good enough for Anthony Bourdain and his wife, then it's good enough for us," I exclaimed, after greeting Megan and Hung for our Saturday evening dinner date at Zio. After all, it was due to this particular factoid that the new Flatiron Italian place was even in the running for us (along with about three other restaurants that we had also considered).
For 8:30 on a Saturday evening, Zio was surprisngly empty. I chalked this up to the restaurant's very recent introduction to the Flatiron neighborhood's dining landscape. Slower evening aside, I was instantly warmed by the genuine care and service we received from the hostess upon our arrival, in addition to a couple of the other employees that we had first encountered.
We were seated in the far back corner of the grand dining room, which offered us unobstructed views of the entire space. Overall, the restaurant seemed clean with an understated elegance — honey, oat, and walnut color hues — leather banquettes plus table and chair seating and dimmed modern lighting.
The meal was kicked off with a basket of sliced, freshly baked Italian bread — crunchy, hand-rolled, herb-specked breadsticks — and a shallow dish filled with "red pesto (pesto rosso)," for dipping and dunking.
The three of perused the dinner menu, all the while nursing our glasses of wine. Finally, we came to a decision: split three appetizers amongst the table and order individual entrées.
Our first appetizer was the melanzane. Imagine a castle, if you will, constructed of interchanging layers of lightly breaded strips of eggplant and gooey, smoked mozzarella cheese, floating atop a shallow moat of warm marinara sauce. Spicy arugula greens crowned the top of the dish.
Next was the riso al salto con l'osso — arborio rice, cooked to a precise al dente, cooled, and then hand-formed in to the shape of a hockey puck, pan-fried to a Rolex-gold color and served atop a tangy, herbaceous gremolata sauce made with lemon, parsley, and capers. Visually, what stole the show was the centerpiece of the dish — approximately four inches of beef bone that was sliced across the top, exposing a pool of gelatinous marrow.
The third and final starter was the lamb meatballs (one of the appetizer specials of the evening). Meatballs. The word alone makes my stomach growl... in a good way. Visually, this order of four golf ball-sized meatballs was the picture of perfection — enveloped in the house marinara sauce, finished with cheese, and topped with a sprig of something green for a burst of color. Unfortunately, however, the dish was overcooked — to the point that what should have been delicate, pink lamb meat, was "McDonald's hamburger patty" gray. Bummer.
For my entrée I chose the pappardelle — ribbons of saffron noodles were gently tossed with brisket-like shreds and chunks of tender, gristle-free lamb. The meat was braised in a tomato-based sauce which, while still pleasant and flavorful, did not compete or overpower the star component.
Aside from the overcooked lamb meatballs, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my meal at Zio. With the sophisticated atmosphere, impressive cocktail and wine lists, plus excellent service and, most importantly, the food, I hope that Zio makes a long-standing home for itself in the Flatiron neighborhood.