Massoni: A Winner From One Of New York's Hottest Restaurant Groups

Three Kings Restaurant Group — a partnership between chef Dale Talde, restaurateur David Massoni, and mixologist John Bush — has a lot on its plate these days. Talde, Massoni, and Bush continue to run Park Slope's acclaimed Talde (with additional locations in Jersey City and Miami Beach), they have four new venues in the works at Chinatown's Joie de Vivre Hotel, they're working on a 7,000-square-foot restaurant near the Barclays Center called Atlantic Social, and they also run the dining program at the new Arlo Nomad Hotel on 31st Street between Fifth and Madison avenues. The hotel's flagship restaurant, Massoni, recently opened and is one of the buzziest restaurants in the city right now, so we dropped by to check it out for ourselves. After working our way through the menu, we can officially say that it's worth the hype.

If you've ever dined at Talde's eponymous restaurant, you probably noticed how he isn't afraid to defy conventions and turn Asian cuisine on its head; look no further than his pretzel pork and chive dumplings, crispy oyster and bacon pad Thai, and everything bagel-seasoned roti bread. What he did for Asian cuisine at Talde he's doing for Italian cuisine at Massoni.

Beef tartare is piped into a pistachio-crusted cannoli shell, a crunchy counterpoint to the delicately seasoned beef, and it's a must-order. Perfectly fried arancini take on an Indian accent thanks to traditional biryani seasoning and yogurt tomato sauce. Traditional Caesar salad gets an umami boost by the addition of nori. Spicy bucatini amatriciana swaps the pancetta for smoky Nueske's bacon (above). A whole steamed orata is showered with Marcona almonds, caper-ginger relish, scallions, and hot olive oil soy sauce (below).

A sense of whimsy infuses every dish, but there's not a gimmick in the bunch. Plenty of straight-ahead pasta dishes and entrées are prepared with precision, and seriously inspired. Squid ink pappardelle is tossed with a spot-on vodka sauce, and an ample dose of lump crab is a wise addition. Campanelle is nicely complemented with a spicy octopus puttanesca sauce and breadcrumbs. Spaghetti with meatballs is pure unadulterated Italian-American bliss, and a 30-day dry-aged New York strip from Creekstone Farms is everything you look for in a steak for two. (Clearly, Talde also knows that if it ain't broke, don't fix it.)

Pizza is also a must-order. The pies are square and smallish, in the vein of Brooklyn's popular Emmy Squared, and are available in six styles. A simple cheese pie sets a very solid baseline; a mushroom pie is loaded with several varieties of mushrooms as well as French onion mascarpone and smoked mozzarella; and pepperoni is nicely paired with pickled peppers and mellowed by honey. The pizzas change regularly; a grand slam of a Buffalo chicken pizza (above) that was on the menu when we visited has since been replaced by an equally intriguing one topped with clam, bacon, potato, and parsley. (Guess I'll just have to make a return visit to try that one.) Massoni is unlike any other Italian restaurant you're going to find; a perfect synergy of Talde's cooking chops and creativity, Massoni's keen sense of hospitality, and Bush's mixology skills. (Did I mention the cocktails? They're great.) When they caught lightning in a bottle with the Talde restaurant, we assumed that it couldn't be replicated, but by transposing the formula from Asian to Italian, the Three Kings defied the odds and found themselves a winner with Massoni.