Scuderia + Da Silvano Bistecca
The Da Silvano empire's awkward growth spurt.
Thu May 7 2009
Photo: Roxana Marroquin
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5
257 Sixth Ave between Bleecker and W Houston Sts (212-206-9111). Subway: A, C, E, B, D, F, V to W 4th St. Mon--Thu noon--1am; Fri noon--2am; Sat 11:30am--2am; Sun 11:30am--midnight. Average main course: $20.
Da Silvano Bistecca
260 Sixth Ave between Bleecker and W Houston Sts (212-844-0282). Subway: A, C, E, B, D, F, V to W 4th St. Mon--Thu noon--11:30pm; Fri, Sat noon--midnight; Sun noon--11pm. Average main course: $24.
While many restaurateurs harbor global ambitions, for more than 30 years Silvano Marchetto has been happily anchored to a single West Village block. The homebody impresario has done awfully well by lower Sixth Avenue. Da Silvano—until recently, his only restaurant—has had remarkable longevity, consistently drawing New York's stars and starstruck since 1975. Though critics have mostly cooled on the place, his glittery regulars remain loyal.
Seven years ago, when he finally got the itch to fiddle with this very good thing, Marchetto began by colonizing the slim space next door, launching Da Silvano Cantinetta as a less pricey and glamorous version of its hot-spot neighbor. Last year, as the recession sank in, he tinkered some more, changing the name on the awning to Da Silvano Bistecca—and unveiling a meatcentric menu that's his most affordable yet.
Months later, the Silvano brand welcomed a third member to the family, in an airy space just across the street. Scuderia, which could easily have been named Da Silvano Jr., marked the official family-business debut of the next generation of the Marchetto clan, with daughter Leyla (a partner) assuming her first managerial role.
While Da Silvano remains a destination for gossip-page regulars, Scuderia is a restaurant geared toward the rest of us. You won't need any insider connections to land a good table, or an American Express Black card to cover the bill. Like a student hangout in an Italian college town, the place exudes easy, youthful charm, with vintage rock albums decorating the walls, kitchen-towel napkins on the low-slung wood tables and a blackboard near the kitchen adorned with cartoon babes by Marchetto's wife, New Yorker cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto.
The large trattoria menu features decent pizzas—the Scuderia pie boasts a delicious mix of fig jam, Gorgonzola and speck atop a chewy crust—and better than average pastas—a starter (or light supper) portion of fresh black-pepper pappardelle comes bathed in a hearty beef-cheek rag. The minimalist mains by Claudio Cristofoli (Cipriani Downtown) are satisfying— and reasonable— enough if you happen to be in the 'hood, but not worth making a special trip for. Semiboneless bunny with cool garlic-parsley pesto is plenty juicy but ultimately tastes like scrawny, gamey chicken. A seafood fritti misti main—an overly abundant heap of fish, squid, sweet potatoes and green beans—features a nice light batter but is simply far too much fried food at once (it's better suited to being shared as a starter).
The restaurant makes up for its culinary shortcomings with a playful sense of humor—desserts, including a deconstructed tiramisu (espresso with ladyfingers for dipping) and a way too sweet Nutella pizza, are silly fun—and with upbeat, breezy service by waiters in jeans, T-shirts and Converse kicks.
If only some of that warmth could make its way to Papa's unfortunate steakhouse across the avenue. While his daughter's joint was bustling on the nights I dined there, Da Silvano Bistecca was virtually empty. Despite the name change, this is a restaurant still in search of its soul. Our waiter, who seemed too bored to care if we ordered dinner at all, presented the full Da Silvano menu instead of the much shorter, and far more reasonable, steakhouse version.
That uninspiring document, delivered upon request, includes drab Italian versions of standard steakhouse starters. Instead of shrimp cocktail, you get rubbery grilled shrimp on a sad lettuce leaf. The tomato "royale," the restaurant's dreary take on a tomato and onion salad, featured chopped mushy tomatoes with balsamic and basil. The red meat that followed was even more of an embarrassment. A thin, chewy bison skirt steak had virtually no char and not much flavor. An equally anemic hanger steak slab was rescued only by the heap of Gorgonzola melted on top. Both steaks came with lumpy mashed potatoes and a generic tangle of mesclun. Sickly-sweet coconut sorbet and Italian profiteroles straight from the freezer offered no solace (the chef couldn't even be bothered to heat up the chocolate sauce poured on top), and helped to further explain why the blas waiter seemed so in denial about the switch-over signaled by the new name. I wouldn't be surprised to hear the restaurant had changed its identity again—becoming "Da Silvano Due" perhaps, or more appropriately, "Da Silvano Annex."
Drink this: Scuderia's wine list features quite a few reasonable bottles, including a light, crisp, easy-drinking Guidobono Arneis ($36).
Eat this: Pizza with fig jam and Gorgonzola, beef-cheek pappardelle, seafood fritti misti.
Sit here: The coziest tables are at the back of the restaurant beyond the high-traffic bar. There are also high tables with stools best suited to large groups.
Conversation piece: Italian food isn't the only thing you'll find on the menu. Also for sale: limited-edition Da Silvano sneakers by shoe artist Joshua Peters for $895.
Da Silvano Bistecca
Drink this: Da Silvano Bistecca's wine offerings are much less of a bargain, although you can get out without blowing a bundle by ordering a half bottle of solid Chianti Classico from Ruffino ($30 for the Riserva Ducale).
Eat this: Hanger steak with Gorgonzola.
Sit here: Unless you're on a clandestine liaison (in which case you'll want a corner table in back), snag a seat near the wide-open front windows, or on the sidewalk in summer.
Conversation piece: Silvano Marchetto is not just a restaurateur but also a self-promotional marketing whiz, with his own line of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. A shameless Web gallery showcases Marchetto posing with his celebrity clientele (Ben Stiller, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Sting).