The showbiz cliché break a leg has never been more apt than at Insieme, a new restaurant on the border between corporate midtown and the Great White Way. The place has guaranteed itself a bumpy start—specifically the stealthy step at the entrance, which provides continual slapstick entertainment as patrons stumble, and sometimes spill, over it. Rather than being an unfortunate metaphor for the restaurant itself, chef Marco Canora renders it Insieme’s only misstep. His polished, confident cooking displays few weak links and occasional virtuosity.
Canora’s flair was already in evidence at Gramercy Tavern and Craft, long before he launched the East Village’s formidable Hearth with sommelier Paul Grieco, also his partner at Insieme (Italian for “together”). The duo now ply their craft on the ground floor of the Michelangelo Hotel in an area perpetually devoid of restaurants that aspire beyond tourist fare.
The space certainly won’t draw the ESPN Zone crowd, with an understated mod elegance (clumsy step aside). White tables appear sans cloths, track lighting contributes a soft glow, and cascades of long, white strings—an upscale take on Greg Brady’s attic bachelor pad—provide privacy for a row of booths.
Canora’s menu emphasizes dichotomy. Traditional Italian dishes appear in one column, while the other has “modern” concoctions, written in English. It’s an artificial conceit; the traditional dishes feel quite new, and the new ones are rooted in tradition. Consider Insieme’s deservingly touted lasagna. It occupies a line on the old-school side of the menu, but bears little resemblance to that familiar red-sauce-layered pasta. This version is a sandwich of spinach pasta and parmesan sitting atop a two-inch pile of beef-and-pork ragù, cemented together with a thick béchamel. It’s just as innovative as its contemporary peer in the primi section, black-olive fettuccine tossed with a wine-heavy duck ragù and pecorino sardo.
Pork loin with assorted beans
Throughout the meal, the slight distinctions between Canora’s dual visions blended into consistent excellence. A lemony appetizer of veal tartare is made of meat from pastured calves and fortified with a hefty dose of chopped porcini mushrooms. Another starter wraps grilled calamari around minced shrimp, white asparagus, ramps and lovely chunks of orange—late spring in a roll.
Alas, despite summer’s approach, Canora’s entrées are universally hearty—chicken breast with liver and fennel, boiled meat with horseradish cream and mostarda. A true beauty is the sliced roasted pork loin (pictured), served perfectly medium-rare atop a confetti of pink-and-white beans in a pool of sage-heavy jus.
Pastry chef Amadou Ly’s desserts are strong (little surprise—he came from Mas, the home of my favorite Guinness sundae). I was especially taken with the house-made sorbets and the delicate mascarpone cannoli served with a rhubarb confit.
Like at Hearth, the details are attended to. The service is prompt, the bread warm, even the beer selection is notable. Grieco’s wine list, meanwhile, reads like a magazine, with asides on different wines and grapes, including “7 Reasons to Drink Rosé.”
I can give you only three reasons not to dine here. First, while I found no clunkers, nothing made me swoon. And the portion sizes, particularly the pastas, were too small (the classic Italian meal, which wedges a pasta course into the appetizer-entrée-dessert trio, is a necessity here). Then there’s that step, which turns out to be little more than a nuisance before a meal that, for the most part, carries itself with grace.