To my very good fortune, on the day I arrived in New York City last week, a friend recommended the amazing dinner she had just enjoyed at Felidia. She raved about the pecorino and pear ravioli and said that I had to go. So when my dad and I discovered it was only a few blocks from our hotel and owned by chef Lidia Bastianich, acclaimed chef and Mario Batali’s business partner in Eataly (where we had eaten earlier that day) and Esca (where we had dined four years ago for my mom’s birthday) we knew we had to check it out.
Simply put it turned out to be one of the best dining experiences I have ever had. We were lead through the dim but glowing restaurant to the second floor where a beautiful oversized vase of flowers and warm orange light fixtures complemented the dark wood furniture and white tablecloths. After only a quick peruse of the menu, that night hilighting some special truffled entrées, we decided on the chef’s tasting menu. Enjoying the customized menu was the closest I have ever come to being a judge on Iron Chef America, and in fact the chef at Felidia, Fortunato Nicotra, was a challenger on the show. We informed our superb waiter, Kennedy, of our dietary restrictions and then we ceded all control.
Over the course of our almost three hour dining experience we were brought six courses, each elegantly plated and beautifully introduced by Kennedy, who interpreted Mr. Nicotra’s creations table-side for our maximum enjoyment.
Here is a summary of the play in six acts that we were privileged to be served. As my Dad said when we decided to splurge for the $85 a person prix fixe menu, “Think of this as our broadway show for the night!” And what a show it was!
Act One: Tutto Crudo: tuna and salmon crudo with shaved vegetables and ruffed rice
Perhaps the best course of the night, this dish was a revelation. Kennedy explained that it was meant to confuse your senses. He commented that often we taste with our eyes before the food even touches our mouths. By scooping the centers out of tomatoes and mixing them with the delicate pieces of tuna and salmon and altering the look of the vegetables it was impossible to really know what you were eating until you tasted it carefully. The puffed rice added a smokey flavor that was the only truly cooked element on the plate and its crunchiness accented the cold creaminess of the fish and the tomatoes. Even those who are wary of raw fish will love this dish, as my dad proved, and if you are a lover of all things crudo, like myself, it will meet your every expectation for spectacular seafood.
Act Two: Spring Salad: arugula with shaved artichokes and asparagus and grana padano
This was a simple salad, but a good simple salad. A perfect second course to prepare the diner for the heavier dishes to come. The salad was lightly dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and Kennedy told me that the cheese had been aged with saffron, though I couldn’t really taste it without another cheese to compare it to!
Act Three: Fresh Parsley Pasta with Mussels and Clams
Though this was my father’s least favorite course, he isn’t a fan of most shellfish, I have high praise for the tenderness of the seafood and the luscious pasta. Though there seemed to be very little sauce on this dish, each bite was creamy and the beautiful green noodles tasted as if they had been rolled and sliced just minutes before. It would have been outstanding even without the mussels and clams, and that is how my Dad enjoyed it as he passed all his shellfish to his lucky daughter!
Act Four: Cacio e Pare: pear and pecorino ravioli
These lived up to my friend’s glowing recommendation. They were little pockets of heaven. Again, though there didn’t seem to be much sauce on the ravioli, they were packed with flavor. The warm sweet pears and the nutty melted cheese came together to create the most decadent yet light filling and the buttery sauce, as I said, was flavorful but also surprisingly light. This is back to the basics at its best, I would guess that there weren’t any more than 7 ingredients in this dish, pasta dough included.
Act Five: Halibut in a Tomato Bread Soup with Spinach
The last of our savory dishes was a hearty one. A beautiful flaky, white piece of halibut rested in a beautiful pool of tomato soup anchored by an island of the greenest spinach. The soup was the classic Tuscan tomato and bread based Pappa al Pomodoro. It was fresh and bright and the beautiful acidity of the tomatoes was balanced by the hearty bread.
Act Six: Quattro Dolci: dessert in four parts
Our dessert was served on a long clear plate with four rectangular wells. They contained in order:
torta di nocciole, hazelnut tart
cannolo aperto, a deconstructed cannoli
crostata di pecan, a pecan tart
tiramisu agli agrumi, a citrus tiramisu with limoncello cream and candied kumquats
Anyone would be excited to have this plate set before them, and it was wonderful to get to taste so many different things. With the mini portions of four desserts each bite was fresh and new. My favorites were the hazelnut tart, which was more like a creamy cake topped with luscious whipped cream, and the tiramisu, which blended several citrus fruits in a symphony of sweetness.
It is worth mentioning that in addition to offering exemplary food, Felidia’s wine list is incredibly extensive. I started my meal with a the seasonal bellini, passionfruit, and it was deliciously fruity and light. Another waiter brought me a glass of the La Rocca 2008 when I asked for a white that would complement whatever my next course would be and when Kennedy neglected to promptly bring my second glass to the table he apologized for forgetting and poured me another on the house. This was further evidence of the outstanding service and attention to detail as the entire team at Felidia strove to create a perfect dining experience for their guests.
I know I have used the word light several times throughout this review, but I was truly amazed that after six courses, three glasses of wine, and a complementary plate of cookies, I walked out of the restaurant feeling satisfied but not stuffed. So if you are in New York splurge for one of their three prix fixe menus (ranging from $55 to $85 a person), or pick out an item or two from the menu. Either way it will be money, time and calories well spent.
Check out the full menu and wine list online at: http://www.felidia-nyc.com/
For more about Lidia Bastianich and her other projects: http://lidiasitaly.com/