Like visiting a solicitous neighbor whose kitchen is always stocked with good things to eat, it's easy to imagine chef Sarah Jenkins happily tending the range at this cozy pasta joint, glass of red wine in one hand, saute pan in the other. The best of her pastas are spontaneous and comforting. Toothsome anneloni rings tossed in a generous jumble of wilted mustard greens and house-made spicy lamb sausage, piquant with Calabrese peppers, are finished with a touch of cream and crisp toasted bread crumbs. Her kitchen-sink mac and cheese, perfumed with fennel pollen and thyme, is a soothing dish, its cannolichie curls gooey with sharp and pungent scraps from the restaurant's cheese plate (a mix of fontina, ragusano and piave, among others). Pasta is really the best thing going here, but if you're craving wholesome fish or fowl, you could do worse than Jenkins's juicy roasted chicken, simply served with mashed potatoes and bitter greens.
Michael Toscano, who ran the kitchen at Mario Batali’s meat palace Manzo, partnered with affable restaurateur Gabriel Stulman for this electric haunt. His handmade pastas are are the way to go. Try modest portions of stuffed shapes, such as translucent brown-buttered tortelli with Technicolor ricotta-beet filling, or short-rib-filled agnolotti sauced in meat drippings.
Danny Meyer’s first full-fledged foray into Italian cuisine is a painstaking homage to the neighborhood trattorias that kept the restaurateur well fed when he was a young expat living in Rome. The menu offers exceptional facsimiles of dishes specific to that city. Spaghetti alla carbonara is silky with boutique-farm egg yolks, fragrant with guanciale and anointed with heaps of black pepper. The amatriciana sauce on thick bucatini, strikes just the right balance between spicy (peperoncini) and sweet (Roma tomatoes). And an oversize raviolo, filled with an ethereal mix of fresh ricotta and spinach around a runny egg, works beautifully as a decadent interlude before a meaty main course.
Chef Michael White (Alto, Marea) is one of New York’s most prolific and successful Italian-American chefs, and this terrific downtown homage to a classic Bolognese tavern is the most accessible restaurant in his stable. The toque spent seven years cooking in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, and his connection to the area surfaces in the rustic food. Handmade pastas—frail ricotta gnocchi in light tomato cream, fat tortelli bundles oozing an absurdly rich mix of braised meats—are fantastic across the board. With so much butter and cream, you might skip dessert, but don’t miss head barman Eben Freeman’s riffs on classic aperitivi.
Michael White is one of the city’s top talents with pasta, stamping out a bewildering array of unusual shapes and combinations. His seafood-focused collection at Marea, his upmarket shrine to the simple pleasures of the Italian coastline, is the unquestionable highlight of a meal here. Sedanini (like ridgeless rigatoni) swim in a smoky cod-chowder sauce, with smoked cod, potatoes and speck. And the house-made fusilli with bone marrow and baby octopus tentacles in an unctuous tomato ragout is a rich and rib-sticking classic in its own right.
In the evenings, when votives flicker and jazz serenades on the stereo, there are plenty of inducements to abandon shopping at this market-restaurant hybrid and settle in for dinner. The gutsy food from young chef Justin Smillie (Barbuto, Standard Grill) fits the spontaneous spirit of the place. The simple pastas include busiate curls wrapped around top-shelf anchovies with cauliflower and mint. Bucatini strands alla gricia are a porky spin on a classic cacio e pepe, with sharp romano, coarse-ground black pepper and translucent sheets of house-cured pancetta. Served in small primi portions, these dishes are fine by themselves as a light solo supper, but better yet as shared warm-ups to a large-format protein or two.
Bar Corvo, from al di là chef Anna Klinger and front-of-house partners Emiliano Coppa and Jacob Somers, spearheaded a new scene in Crown Heights. From a very cramped former short-order kitchen come robust flavors with unusual depth—good, simple food elevated by top-notch ingredients. Squid-ink spaghetti, rough cut on an old-fashioned wire-lined chitarra, arrives tangled around tender stewed octopus in a spicy tomato ragù brightened with hand-torn fresh mint. Lasagna al forno is classic, comfort-food perfection with striations of fresh pasta, three-meat sauce and thick béchamel beautifully blistered in individual crocks. This is Italian home cooking with a clean, modern edge, technically flawless and soulful, too.
Chef Scott Conant’s pastas are as ethereal as ever at this cavernous middlebrow trattoria. As stuffed shapes go, his plump, meaty duck and foie gras ravioli, slicked with a rich marsala-duck jus, are as gorgeous as you’re likely to find in New York. A close second: miniature ricotta-filled specimens topped with paper-thin slices of baby zucchini, petals from their wispy blossoms and a drizzle of briny anchovy-laced butter.
The Marzovillas—founders of both this restaurant and a wine store across the street—showcase the rustic cuisine of Puglia here. While the prices and ambience are hardly humble, the kitchen keeps the food simple. Dora Marzovilla makes a terrific veal-and spinach-filled ravioli with Sicilian pistachio sauce; pair it with a roasted veal chop with potatoes and mushrooms. In the warmer months, check out the back patio, one of the city’s best outdoor dining spots.
Michael Psilakis may be the face of Greek cuisine in New York City, but (antithetically) his best work is with pastas at this Upper West Side taverna. Try the toothsome macaroni and feta cheese, bound with a flawless bechamel, or his pillowy sheep's-milk dumplings tossed with crumbly lamb sausage.