It’s safe to say that Pete Wells has eaten at a lot of Italian restaurants throughout his career as a restaurant critic. He begins his two-star review of Andrew Carmellini’s Bar Primi on New York’s Lower East Side with the often-sad-but-true adage, “Main courses are never as good as the starters, people like to say… I have to admit that it does seem true for a lot of Italian restaurants, at least in New York City. There are exceptions, of course, but as a general rule, it’s all downhill after the spaghetti.”
Luckily for Wells (and laymen alike), Andrew Carmellini has caught on to this notion, and so Bar Primi focuses almost solely on pasta. There is a nightly special that rotates throughout the week, but the main attractions of the menu are the two lists of pasta: “Traditional” and “Seasonal.” The restaurant critic is a little skeptical about the criteria the kitchen uses to categorize their dishes, “We would be here for hours if I tried to figure out what is seasonal about orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe, a widely known classic from Southern Italy, or which tradition gave us spaghetti with a sauce inspired by clams casino.” However, he gets past this mystery, and he urges his readers to do the same “The important thing to notice is that there are 12 choices in all, and one of them is almost certain to be exactly what you feel like eating.”
He then details a few of the dishes he liked best, like linguine with bread crumbs and garlic, spaghetti pomodoro, and “fiore di carciofi, a long, fat spiral filled with creamy artichoke and mascarpone.” Of course there were a few off-key notes in his experience, but he assures us that “The menu has minor dips but no major sinkholes.” The two Wells mentions are the insufficient abundance of clams in the clams casino and orecchiette that weren’t covered in enough pork fat and olive oil to satisfy him; both minor infringements in the world of restaurant reviews.
In the final paragraph, the critic addressed how Bar Primi fits in with Carmellini’s trove of eateries, and particularly, a criticism he has heard leveled at the chef that “he now rarely drives to the basket for the spectacular dunks he used to throw down when he was coached by Daniel Boulud.” For Wells, however, sometimes a well-executed but lower-key venture hits all the right notes, as “a well-timed layup like Bar Primi can win games, too.”