In an era of faux-quaintness and even more faux-rusticity in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, a visit to Antica Pesa, an offshoot of the famed restaurant of the same name in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, is a breath of fresh air: classy, modern, artfully designed, and scoring an A+ in both the food and hospitality departments.
We visited at the invitation of the restaurant during a frigid recent evening, and were immediately greeted by the warm, mustachioed manager, Lorenzo Panella, whose brothers run the Rome outpost. After warming up with a cocktail by the very welcome fireplace, we headed to our table in the spacious dining room. In a recent Observer article, Joshua David Stein compared Antica Pesa’s Italy as the one of Ferragamo and Loro Piana as opposed to casalinghe and clotheslines, and he hit the nail on the head: this is about as classy and stylish an Italian restaurant as you’re likely to find. It’s no Cipriani, but it’s in the ballpark.
As for the food, a bite of the spaghetti cacio e pepe (pictured) should tell you all you need to know. A simple combination of pasta, black pepper, and pecorino Romano is elevated to majestic heights, and it has to be one of the most delicious and comforting pasta dishes in the city. I have no idea how they do it, but it’s groan-inducingly good, and left me wanting to order another bowl. The same goes for the mezze maniche alla carbonara, which is made as traditionally as possible, with crispy guanciale, egg, pecorino, and black pepper enrobing short, fat tubes of pasta. I could eat these two dishes every day and be very happy.
But forge ahead, because there’s a lot to love here. Just-melting mozzarella and prosciutto di Parma get a crispy filo shell in the crudo e bufala croccante; a rotating fresh fish is served with vegetable caponata, fennel mostarda, and balsamic sauce; grilled lamb chops are served in a sweet and sour sauce alongside bitter greens and cippolini, and are perfectly cooked.
Antica Pesa knows exactly what it wants to be, and is: an upscale, modern Italian restaurant, serving classic Italian fare with no pretense. So drop in for a cocktail and a pasta, and make sure to chat with Lorenzo, who could be the most gregarious, welcoming host in the city today.