Our First Bite At The East Village’s New Rustic Italian Restaurant, L’Apicio

l'apicio restaurant waiter

[credit provider=”L’Apicio/Michael Morales” url=”http://lapicio.com/media/”]

Welcome to First Bite, wherein we bring you a look at some of the city’s newest restaurants shortly after they open.We’ll go, eat some food, take some pictures, and report back to you.

This go round it’s L’Apicio, the newest project from Joe Campanale and chef Gabe Thompson on East First Street that opened October 18th.

We didn’t have a chance to go before we left for Asia, but it was our first dinner when we got back to town.

One of the great things about Epicurean Management restaurants (dell’anima, L’Artusi, Anfora, and now L’Apicio) are the wine lists.

Joe Campanale, beverage director and co-owner, curates delightfully explorative wine lists to accompany chef Gabe Thompson’s rustic, Italian cuisine. An example of this is the 2011 Arnot-Roberts trousseau from Clear Lake, California. Trousseau is a grape indigenous to the small wine producing region of Jura in eastern France, but also one that thrives in the cooler climate of Lake County, California, and the ’11 Arnot-Roberts effort was recently featured in a New York Times article.

Despite its lighter-bodied profile, trousseau produces incredibly well-structured, complex, and balanced wines. We found the Arnot-Roberts trousseau to be similar to schiava, a grape that’s grown in Trentino Alto-Adige in Italy’s north. In both instances, the wines are light, floral, mineral-driven, and have a slightly bitter finish. Surprisingly tannic for such a thin-skinned varietal, Arnot-Roberts’ trousseau is a refreshing alternative to the oft overbearing, rich, powerful wines produced in California.

The wine list will change with some regularity, particularly the by the glass options, but in order to highlight the list, we’ve provided a pairing option for each of the dishes we had.

Escarole pecorino-buttermilk dressing, almonds, and cucumber ($13) – The salad carries a bright acidity from a liberal squeeze of lemon in the buttermilk dressing. Cucumbers and radishes add texture and freshness to contrast the fat in the cheese and buttermilk.

The salad is a nod to the fundamentals of Italian cooking: minimal ingredients and fresh produce. It’s a great way to excite the palate before the starches show up.

Wine: Vignoles Estate, Keuka Lakes Vineyards 2011 (Finger Lakes, New York) $10 – Finger Lakes wines are a quickly growing sensation. The terroir surrounding said lakes provides exceptional growing conditions in which wines of great freshness and bright acidity are produced. The vibrant, acid-driven vignoles is light and crisp, but has a slightly rich mouth feel that can withstand the fatty dressing.

Linguine clams, pepperoni, and chilies ($19) – There was no denying the fresh clam flavour in this pasta. Chilies brightened everything up, and while the inclusion of pepperoni provided a modern twist, didn’t offer much else to the dish.

Wine: Bianchetta Genovese “U Pastine,” Bisson 2011 (Liguria, Italy) $13 – Bianchetta Genovese is from the coastal region of Liguria in Italy, where seafood is a well-known and cherished fare. Many Ligurian wines have a subtle salinity that results from grapes growing in approximation to the Mediterranean.

It is especially evident in wines from Genoa, Liguria’s coastal capital, and proves to go extremely well with the brininess found in shellfish. The wine, from one of the region’s best producers, is rarely vinified as a varietal wine, and shows Campanale’s passion for finding Italian gems.

Pappardelle short rib ragu ($18) – Ragus are sometimes the best place to look when scouring for a chef’s ability to make pasta. This one hits the nail on the head. It’s not an overly sauced, Americanized mound of poorly cooked meat; but a refined, richly flavored, and decadent pasta. The toothsome bit of the perfectly cooked noodles was matched by the most tender shreds of braised short rib meat.

Wine: Syrah “Tous Ensemble,” Copain 2009 (Mendocino County, California) $15 – There are a few solid red options by the glass that would pair well with the ragu, but we settled on the California syrah. The pasta is packed with flavour and spice, so we thought a wine of similar character and ambition would be the best way to wash it down, especially on a cold night!

Broccoli Rabe garlic, chilli, and onion ($16) – Polenta alla spianatora is a dish in the Epicurean Management Group unique to L’Apicio. It’s a glorified side dish of sorts, served family style on a wooden board. Polenta might be to the Italian chef what the omelet is to a French chef and Thompson has the technique down pat.

With our ragu intake from the pasta, we settled on the veggie option. The result was a textural, flavorful delight. It was a little heavy handed on the spice (we dig spice), but everything polenta should be.

Wine: Nebbiolo, Vallana Boca 2004 (Piedmont, Italy) $17 -We say go for the nebbiolo, a grape indigenous to the northern parts of Italy. Polenta is said to have originated in Friuli, where nebbiolo is not grown, but the dish is also popular in Lombardia, where nebbiolo (known locally as chiavennasca) is one of the most widely planted grapes.

So, in a round about way, this pairing supports the ol’ “grows together goes together” ideal. Being an ’04, the wine is a bit further along in the ageing process, so developed nuances and complexities will make for a more enjoyable, fuller bodied wine that will stand up to the fat and richness that makes polenta so good.

Chandeliers are part of the decor in the 180-seat restaurant. The ambitious room is hip in that industrial, clubby, East Village sort of way. It’s a far cry from the intimate rooms found at other EMG restaurants, but the offerings are still undeniably Thompson and Campanale’s.

L’Apicio | 13 East First Street | 212.533.7400 

Sunday-Wednesday, 5:30pm – 11:00pm, Thursday-Saturday, 5:30pm-12:00am

*brunch coming soon