Just in time for Frank Bruni's review in the Times today, we ate at Flatiron newcomer Bar Stuzzichini last night.
I agree more with the Times' one star review than with New York magazine's two stars. In fact, I may be even a bit less forgiving than Bruni.
Admittedly I dined there once, but I was not that impressed. First of all, the room leaves a lot to be desired, as many have said already. It's big and I agree with Adam Platt of New York mag, looks like a Pizzeria Uno. It's cheesy. It looks middle-aged and middle-brow--cue the odd photos on the wall of graffiti in Italy, I guess to youth-up the joint.
The meal started off promising, as our server chose an odd but mead-like white wine (honey notes) that was lovely. But then the bread basket was very Penn Station Zaro's (an outlet of which is just down Broadway from Bar Stuzzichini). James and I split the "five little plates for $22" as an appetizer. These little plates are the "stuzzichini" in Italian. We ordered zucchini, spicy soppressata, ricotta with saffron and honey, meatballs, and fried artichoke.
As readers of this column know, I tend to find zucchini in its natural form--meaty and squishy--repellent, so I asked the server how it was prepared. When he said grilled with olive oil, garlic, and mint, that sounded promising. But in fact what came to the table were castoffs from Au Bon Pain's "grilled veggie" sandwich, those horrible thick zucchini rounds with black char marks that are the stuff of food nightmares. The artichoke and meatballs were delish. The meatball is tiny, crispy on the outside, and really tender and well-seasoned on the inside.
James and I split the orecchiette with cauliflower and breadcrumbs, and a chickory salad with anchovies. We ordered the latter because it sounded exactly like a dish we had at Bebel's in Milan: tender bulbs of fresh chickory decorated with cut anchovies, lemon, sea salt, and olive oil. Fab. The Bar Stuzzichini version though was chickory leaves--lettuce, essentially--with a caesar-salad like dressing. Eh. Fishy. The orechiette tasted like gourmet mac and cheese. Not enough cauli to flower it. Our friend got the tuna; it looked a tad overcooked, but the pesto garnishing it was nutty.
A word about the service: not so hot. An odd thing happened as we were chowing on our appetizers; our server came over and said, "it would be great if you could consolidate your plates, because your entrees are coming." He literally took away my plate from which I was still eating and kind of moved my silverware out of the way to make way for the mains.
That would have been odd but OK if steaming plates then immediately were set down in front of us. But no. We waited fifteen minutes. So why on earth did he clear our apps so precipitously?
I agree the size of the place isn't right; it doesn't jibe with the little-plate feel. Moreover, while it's in my neighborhood, it doesn't feel neighborhoody. Not too expensive, but not sure I'll return.