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Bar Primi

1/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Buccatini at Bar Primi

2/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Spinach cavatelli at Bar Primi

3/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Lamb chops at Bar Primi

4/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Stuffed meatballs at Bar Primi

5/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Linguini at Bar Primi

6/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Orecchiette at Bar Primi

7/10

Roast beef sandwich at Bar Primi

8/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Broccolini at Bar Primi

9/10
Photograph: Cayla Zahoran

Bar Primi

10/10

Bar Primi

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There are many sides to Andrew Carmellini—there’s the Cleveland-bred, all-American boy who chicken-fried quail at comfort-food clubhouse the Dutch, and the globe-trotting gastronome who pulled from French foothills past traveled for his bistro blockbuster Lafayette. But Italian cuisine has always been the restaurateur-chef’s sweet spot, cultivated as a 14-year-old boiling pasta at the local Italian joint back in Ohio, an itch he scratched with the rustic plates at A Voce and Locanda Verde.

Carmellini’s latest venture, a two-story pasta emporium in the former Peels space, was trademarked seven years ago, but the project was put on pause when the hype-storm that was Locanda debuted—and the wait may just be a saving grace. In the years between, Gotham’s Italian eating has become a parade of oversize gimmickry, all wingspan menus, pizza-size parmigiana and booming Sinatra. Instead of jumping on the bigger-is-better bandwagon, Carmellini, along with fellow chef Sal Lamboglia, doesn’t just go small—he goes primi.

Piccolini, antipasti and house-made pastas (ruffled-bell campanelle, half-moon mezzaluna) all share menu real estate, with one notable exclusion: entrées. Meaty mains are regulated to nightly specials only, like the succulent Thursday night lamb chops ($29), instead spotlighting that feast-starting first act, primi piatti.

And rightly so. Fork prongs battle over shared bowls of tender orecchiette ($16), turned creamy from the welcome addition of chickpeas to broccoli rabe and fennely sausage, and country-green spinach cavatelli ($17), a wine-rich veal bianco sauce clinging lustily to the pasta’s seal. A tangle of linguine ($14), sucker-punched with heady four-clove garlic and finished with crispy bread crumbs, is so heart-stoppingly good that if someone doesn’t want to snog you after, reconsider the relationship.

Smaller plates are more hit-or-miss—though cloaked in a tangy, toothsome sugo, the fontina-stuffed meatballs ($12) suffer from a devastatingly watery center—but are vital to fill out the entrée-less spread; plus ordering a cavalcade of dishes puts a smile on your flanneled server’s face to rival your are-you-sure-you’re-not-hungry nonna.

Those plaid shirts are no accident: Waitstaff, dressed like L-train lieutenants, bustle around a space that owes as much to south Brooklyn as it does southern Italy, with communal tables screaming both farmhouse-chic and family-style. With its off-duty PR-girl clientele, the pasta shop dips a toe in splashy Italian, but Carmellini’s smart enough not to wade into the deep end.—Christina Izzo

Venue name: Bar Primi
Address: 325 Bowery
New York
10003
Cross street: at 2nd St
Venue phone: 212-220-9100
Website: http://barprimi.com
Opening hours: Mon-Wed 11:30am–3pm, 5:30-11pm; Thu, Fri 11:30am–3pm, 5:30pm–midnight; Sat 10am–3pm, 5:30pm–midnight; Sun 10am–3pm, 5:30pm–11pm
Transport: Subway: 6 to Bleecker St
Price: Average entrée: $16. AmEx, DC, MC, V