Gnocco: Vintage Village & Still Going Strong

gnocco garden%201 

Gnocco: Cucina Tradizione & Famiglia

Gnocco is located at 337 East 10th Street between Avenues A and B, in the far East Village. They are open for dinner daily from 5 PM – 12 AM, with brunch and lunch from 12 PM – 4 PM on weekends only.Accepts Amex or cash only. For reservations, please call 212-677-1913, or visit www.gnocco.com.

Named for the fried dough puffs sold with prosciutto and salami on the streets of Modena, Gnocco strives for a certain sense of Italian authenticity. Instead of training its chefs by sending them to the best restaurants in Modena, Giovanetti and Palazzo took a different approach: importing a genuine, Italian nonna (Gian Luca’s, in fact) to teach Gnocco’s kitchen staff the artistry of making their namesake dish—and then some.gnocco ham%20fritto

And like at nonna Viviana’s house, there’s a sense of plenty at Gnocco. From the familial, friendly welcome to the generous portions and value-driven menu, it’s clear that Gnocco keeps attitude and pretension out the door in an effort to make everyone feel, quite literally, at home. That’s the mantra set by General Manager Stefano Biaggioni, whose several years in the biz have taught him how to cater to all types and tastes. At Gnocco, this translates to local families, European imports, hipsters, Upper East Siders, and regular celebrities (to name a few, Alan Cumming has publicly called the restaurant’s “tartufata pizza” one of the things he can’t live without, and Matt Dillon comes often). Even local dogs are fans—those that walk by or wait outdoors are often fed treats from the pizza den.

The experience begins before you even reach the table. To get there, you’ll pass master pizzaiolo Federico Crociani, who boasts 20 years of pizza-making experience including years of training under Istrian master Massimiliano Bacich, widely known as a regular top three finisher at pizza-centric world championships. Don’t rush to your table without watching him toss the tiniest balls of pizza dough into thin, wide rounds—a show in itself that’ll open your appetite before you take a single bite.

Those pizzas can easily craft a meal of their own, but they’re also perfect as appetizers to share. Like Roman style pizzas, they feature thin crusts that are both crispy and chewy; still, Federico’s pizzas are somewhat influenced by Roman style, featuring a less fluffy dough leavened for up to 36 hours. By including less water, the dough is less pliable and harder to stretch—a marker of Federico’s manual talent—but the result is especially light and easy to digest. It’s addictive, especially when topped with a savory, salty, creamy truffle sauce, mozzarella, mushrooms and speck, as in the popular Tartufata.

It would seem obvious to start with one of those, but Executive Chef Raffaele Miele, who returns to Gnocco after a few years at Osteria del Circo, tedly complicates the decision with the many tempting appetizers on his menu. The signature Gnocco Fritto, made with nonna’s recipe, features pockets of lightly fried dough accompanied by the best selection of salume: prosciutto aged 24 months, coppa, and the heartiest cuts of salami. A special of Grilled Tomino is a crowd-pleaser, with tomino cheese from the Italian Alps wrapped and baked in a speck crust, all placed atop pear carpaccio and dressed with a twelve years aged balsamic vinegar.

Carpaccio di polpo is an artistic dish, cooked in a bain marie overnight to take advantage of the octopus’s natural gelatin properties. It allows each slice to come out thin as paper, delicately soft, topped with a celery and fennel salad that’s as refreshing as it is crunchy. Meanwhile, Carciofi Fritti, or fried artichokes, are a rustic nod to Rome, with their tempura-like crust, shaved spicy pecorino topping, and pink peppercorn sauce. gnocco%20octopus%20carpaccio

According to nonna’s strict rules, all pastas are made in house daily. Standouts are plenty, but the Crudaiola might be the brightest star: the only thing cooked is the pasta itself, with cherry tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese that are kissed by its warmth and brought to a just-tender state, each flavor more robust than the next. Whole Wheat Macaroni (or, in Italian, Maccheroni al Torchio Integrali) get a sophisticated kick with braised prosciutto and spicy arugula, an adult version of a childhood favorite. gnocco flower

And the entrees are just as impressive. The Filetto di Branzino Grigliato is a delicate treatment for a superior product—the fish is imported from the Mediterranean rather than kept domestic, an entirely different species that is smaller on average but far more flavorful. It’s grilled and dressed lightly with herbs and sweet butterflied shrimp, all alongside a green bean and potato salad that’s decidedly homey and comforting. Perhaps you’ve had branzino a few times before—perhaps many—but this is a novel experience. Also excellent are Scottadito d’Agnello, Oven roast herbs aromatic crust rack of Lamb served with artichokes and roast potatoes. and Tagliata di Manzo con Grana, Pomodorini e Rucola,Grilled sliced beef rib eye with Grana cheese, grape tomatoes and baby arugula.gnocco flower

For dessert, put yourself back in Federico’s hands—his Calzone Nutella is not to be missed. Lightened with ricotta, the dish isn’t overwhelmingly sweet or doughy—it strikes a balance that is admittedly difficult to find when it comes to dessert pizzas. More classical favorites like the best tiramisu in town and ricotta cheesecake are executed with panache—they were designed by Luca Balboni, a young but formidable Italian talent from Modena’s famed La Francescana. Tastes that are lighter still might enjoy a yogurt mousse layered with Savoiardi cookies, orange and strawberry—something of a caffeine-free summer spin on tiramisu with nothing but the season’s best.

The is no hard liquor, but the wine list is extraordinary, featuring loads of wines by the glass. They are generous pours and in excellent condition. Besides the upmarket reserve list, some of the best values average $13 a glass or $49 a bottle. I loved the Barbera d’Asti and the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. There is also a lively Prosecco for about $9 the glass. 

The restaurant consists of a series of four long rooms leading to a bar, then a terrace-like area and a lovely garden with trees and colorful  wall hangings. Service is helpful and on our visit, Lauren Pascarella, was a dynamo and a paragon of good management.

It’s that same attention to the ingredients that helps Gnocco shine overall—they use only the best Tuscan olive oil for any and all purposes, and import as many DOP ingredients as possible, ensuring that the high standards of quality they set for themselves are met from the onset. Meeting those standards makes Gnocco worthy of all its praise, but it also makes it the family-driven establishment it is: if the owners didn’t trust in what they were serving across the board, they wouldn’t dine there with their children on a nightly basis. They also wouldn’t dine there nightly if they weren’t so passionate for that first baby of theirs. As they say almost in unison, “Everything we do, we do because we love it.” In a nutshell, perhaps, that’s what makes Gnocco so special.

 gnocco flower

Continue reading