Let’s get this out of the way: Quality Italian’s much-hyped, pizza-esque chicken parm for two is a letdown. Ground chicken pressed into a mammoth disk is mushy like frozen Perdue patties, with a soggy bread-crumb crust. It’s a 13-inch elephant in the room, covered with melted mozz and saccharine marinara.
When signature dishes flop, their restaurants usually do too, but at Michael Stillman’s profoundly fun, Italian-slanted steakhouse, it’s not make-or-break. Just down the street from its red-blooded sibling, Quality Meats, this cavernous second-story perch warms concrete ceilings with butcher accents à la AvroKO. Lamps resembling meat hooks and framed butcher’s paper hang over a crowd, eager to drown the midtown workday in red sauce and wine.
Chef Scott Tacinelli’s penchant for tableside cooking adds a carnival element to this big-box trattoria, with affable servers making wisecracks over flaming lobster Diavolo. For that seafood classic, a besuited gentleman wields a bottle of chili-steeped vodka, setting a spicy tomato sauce ablaze for lobster that was tender on one night, but stringy on another. Also made in view is a tomato-raisin steak sauce that only puts on a good show—the too-sweet condiment shouldn’t go near the properly charred tomahawk rib eye.
Less theatrical dishes are sometimes more successful, plucked from the tomelike menu peppered with duds. Soft ricotta gnudi thrums with sweet, buttery corn, while crunchy baked oysters are slicked with lush uni, their richness cleverly cut by sharp scallion and jalapeño. Unseen at chophouse warhorses, these are nouveau accouterments for the gourmet-meathead era, in which accomplished-enough chefs bait winners of the economic reshuffling.
Like that other new Italianate steakhouse, Costata, Quality Italian proves to be a modern mook haven, where expensive, competently executed dishes serve as backdrop to back-slapping good times.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Meal highlights: Oysters ricci, tomahawk rib eye, sausage-and-pepper garlic toast, corn gnudi, lobster Diavolo-vodka, chocolate-and-olive-oil cake
Behind the bar: To accompany the deep, Italian-heavy wine list, Clover Club vet Bryan Schneider riffs on classic cocktails, like the Red Tag Reviver, which tames sharp gin and lemon with sweet St-Germain.
Vibe: Like other red-sauce temples, the only thing more generous than its portions is its “hospitaliano.”
Cocktail chatter: Before Tacinelli settled on the chicken parm as the would-be showstopper, he experimented with a ten-layered chicken parm lasagna and a boneless whole bird stuffed with baked ziti.
Soundcheck: As loud as a Tony Soprano outburst.
By: Daniel S. Meyer