Although Zero Otto Nove has only been around for a few years and has recently jumped on the reverse commute bandwagon of newly successful outer borough joints expanding INTO Manhattan, one must remember that it's owned by Roberto Paciullo of Roberto's located just off of Arthur Avenue in Little Italy in the Bronx but spiritually dead center of Salerno, Italy. Roberto's has for years has consistently been rated best Italian restaurant in New York City by Zagat, competing with the likes of Italian superstar newcomers Andrew Carmellini, Michael White, Scott Conant, and Mario Batali. I recently went to the original Arthur Avenue location of Zero Otto Nove to experience the ultimate old-school "red sauce" Italian dish.
It doesn't get any more red sauce than the ragù Salernitano. Served in a beautiful porcelain casserole dish, the simmering red gravy is still bubbling, lava-like, as it arrives at your rustic wooden table. Though entirely immersed in the tomato sauce, four distinguishable shapes are visible on the surface: a colossal herb-flecked stuffed beef meatball, a pork sausage ready to burst through its casing, a beautiful rolled beef braciola and the piece de resistance — the virtually disintegrating unctuous slippery pork skin braciola. The pork skin looks like a roll of Charmin bathroom tissue enveloping Parmesan cheese, parsley, pignoli, and raisins and has the texture of pigs' feet. Its complex taste belies the utter simplicity of how it is prepared.
The pork sausage is relatively sturdy in contrast until punctured by my fork and freed from its natural intestinal outer skin. Both the beef braciola and the gargantuan meatball are thoroughly permeated by the rich red ragù and are meltingly fork tender. Otto Zero Nove's warm, oven-dried cherry tomato stuffed focaccia is the perfect tool to sop up the remaining sauce.
The ragù Salernitano is available at both the Bronx location and the new Zero Otto Nove in Manhattan, and stands up proudly against any Italian dish in the city, new school or old.