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“Why don’t we go to Italy?” wrote Mary Chapin-Carpenter in one of my favorite pop tunes. Alas, right now, the reasons are too numerous to mention (including an expired passport and those darned carry-on restrictions.) Fortunately, I’ve discovered Bianca, a charming East Village restaurant that looks, feels and tastes like it could be smack dab in the middle of Emilia-Romagna, the northern area of Italy known for its hearty cuisine. This casually romantic spot, decorated with tea cup-lined shelves and sturdy wooden tables, attracts everyone from neighborhood regulars who chat congenially with the staff to first-time visitors on their way to the nearby 45 Bleecker theater to celebrities like former “Queer As Folk” star Randy Harrison. I sincerely doubt any of them leave unhappy. Or hungry.Review By: Brian Scott Lipton
The first thing to know about Bianca is that portions are not just generous, but shockingly so – considering a plate of fabulous pasta can be under $10. The second thing to know is that the restaurant only accepts cash, and the nearest ATM is a few blocks away. Forewarned with this information, you’re all set for a memorable meal.
At many tables, you’ll see diners sipping one of the house’s many affordable wines or Italian beers with a platter of gnocco fritto – pillows of greasleess fried dough that are a true specialty of Romagnese cooking. They can be paired either with cheese or a fine platter of Italian cold cuts, including salami, ham, and bologna. It’s a great starter, and large enough for two or three diners. If you want to move on to something lighter, consider a lovely salad of sliced baby artichokes in a tangy lemony dressing. (Artichoke lovers can also have their favorite vegetable fried.) If you’re seeking something with more heft, do not miss a plate of delicious grilled raddichio blanketed with slices of first-rate prosciutto with baked parmesan; the three flavors play against each other brilliantly.
There were many tempting main courses to choose from, from crispy roasted salmon to sliced filet mignon to a special of grilled lamb chops that looked wonderful when being brought to a nearby table. But we simply couldn’t resist those pastas. My regular dining partner was in heaven when he saw spinach gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce on the menu – and he was even happier after his first bite, pronouncing the gnocchi to be light-as-can-be and the sauce sublimely rich. I decided, for fun, to order a dish I’d never seen: gramigna con salsicca e pepperoni. Well, knock my socks off: what arrived was a large, steamy-hot plate of homemade elbow macaroni with crumbled sausage and slivers of red pepper in a light tomato sauce. Yep, it was the most sophisticated variation of that childhood favorite, Beef-a-roni, I’ve ever had, and I finished every last delectable bite.
Finding room for dessert was a definite challenge, which is why we ordered only one finale – despite wanting to taste the house’s secret variation on tiramisu. But our waiter steered us to the most authentic dessert on the menu: ciambella con mascarpone. Thin slices of a dryish but tasty sponge cake were covered in the creamy, custardy-like cheese that is used in tiramisu. One bite should’ve been enough to satisfy our sweet tooths, but it was so delectable, we ate many many more. Now, I’m too fat to sit on that plane to Italy.
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
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