An elegant new coastal Italian restaurant from one of New York’s master seafood chefs opened on W. 23rd St. on Thursday, and it’s the most intriguing and satisfying seafood-centric restaurant to open in Manhattan since Marea.
Barchetta is the brainchild of chef Dave Pasternack (best known for his Hell’s Kitchen mainstay Esca) and LDV Hospitality’s John Meadow. They’ve created a restaurant that’s really all about the fish. In a culinary landscape where simply-prepared, whole fish has long been the domain of primarily Greek restaurants, Pasternak and Meadow are giving them the full Italian treatment, while also inviting guests to stretch beyond their comfort zone.
Crudo, which is usually sliced wafer-thin, is thick-sliced here, and proud of it. Fluke is topped with cherry blossom salt, diver scallop is topped with grapefruit, and Spanish mackerel is topped with pickled shishito peppers. If you’re a fan of Pasternack’s trademark crudo you’ll certainly be a fan of his creative flavor combinations here; a tasting of six for $30 is the best way to experience them. Standout antipasti include fresh head-on shrimp with a bracing lemon aioli, tender charred octopus with smoked peppers, and a comforting bowl of minestrone, full of fresh fish, spring vegetables, and housemade pasta.
You could very easily get through a whole meal here without realizing that you haven’t eaten any starch, but we’d recommend ordering a bowl of fusilli for the table; Atlantic surf clams are rarely seen in restaurants around these parts, and after eating tender slices of them combined with the corkscrew pasta and a simple tomato sauce kicked up with some Calabrian chilies, you’ll be wondering why. It’s a no-frills dish, but it’s also one of the most delicious on the menu.
Pasternack really shines, however, when he’s showcasing his knack for preparing fish simply and with rustic, country touches. As opposed to the usual trout or branzino, here he brings local porgy (of all fish) to the forefront. When grilled and served whole, you’ll find yourself wondering yet again why this is quite possibly the only restaurant in the city serving this fish this way. Same goes for Boston mackerel, which in the wrong hands can be oily and dense; here it’s crisp-skinned, tender, flaky, and tasting of the waters from which it was pulled (you’re encouraged to eat it pinbones and all). A plate of local sea scallops with fire-roasted chickpeas is also amply portioned and super-hearty, with scallops that are so perfectly-seared that eating them feels like ruining a work of art.
The 91-seat space is classy, with 10 spots at the dimly-lit and romantic bar area and about 20 more in a raised back room that’s framed by a rounded window that looks out into a lush courtyard. The main dining room is elegant but comfortable, with reclaimed white oak tables, mid-century modern Danish school chairs, and assorted antique knick-knacks from around the globe. Perhaps as a nod to Pasternack’s former business partner Mario Batali, classic rock plays from the speakers, everything from “American Woman” to early Led Zeppelin.
For those not interested in seafood, lamb chops, chicken scarpariello, and a pork chop are on the menu, but honestly there’s really no reason to go here if you’re not interested in seafood. You’re in good hands with Pasternack, and did you ever think you’d have the opportunity to leave a restaurant fawning over porgy?