Even just a couple of months after opening, Etrusca already delivers on what a lot of places promise. It is a neighborhood restaurant positioned, lion, witch and wardrobe-like, on the Financial District’s Stone Street, which has its own magical quality as Epcot-does-happy-hour. It has a true charm that cannot be faked—my god; think of the last time you saw someone try! It beckons return even as duty and convenience call me to others. And the “Tuscan mountain fare” menu authored by executive chef Elisa Da Prato, who previously operated an eponymous restaurant in Barga, Italy is fun, exciting and excellently executed.
In lieu of the scooter stationed outside that old address overseas in a sweet snapshot, Stone Street’s stippled with outdoor dining setups from the surrounding sports bars and taverns in a way that makes it feel like last call at a mortgage company holiday party. Etrusca is a respite.
Its interior is compact, daintily rustic and ultimately comfortable enough even without a booth or banquette in sight. White tablecloths are draped in unstuffy fashion and topped with candles amid properly low light that, with the hushed tones you’ll affect unless you wish to join conversations with the parties very nearby, create what feels like an effortlessly romantic environment. Wine bottles line shelves high on one sage-painted brick wall, and the bar’s not too far across along the other.
The cocktail list is cleverly kept to a quartet: A Manhattan, a Negroni, a martini and a French 75, each $18 and performing blessedly as expected. There are also more spirits, and a much longer, wonderful wine list.
Dinner is a two-page affair that should start with the show-stopping la tartare ($24.) Its hand-cut beef is more generously portioned than most raw meat in recent memory, mixed with house dressing, grazed with the faintest heat via New Mexico chiles, showered with grated cured egg yolk and served with a polenta crisp. It’s tender and bright and, thanks to Da Prato’s proprietary blend, wholly unique to this restaurant and among the highest ranking I’ve ever had.
La tur ($18) is lovely to start with too, a previous special recently made permanent. A large wedge of the soft, mild, cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese of Italy’s Piemonte region is electrified by onion ash, jet black cocoa, honey, olive oil and Calabrian chiles. Its presentation, taste and texture contrasts are an achievement.
Five entrée options follow. The lumache al ragù ($32) is shockingly, in this moment, for Manhattan, at what is poised to become a trendy restaurant, abundantly plated. Another circumstantial surprise: its snail-shaped pasta is also boldly cooked to firm and stands up brilliantly to the cloak of sausage-rich red sauce that’s as at home here as it would be in any of that genre’s top spots.
If I could predict popularity, I’d pin it on the fried quail ($32). Two petite birds are prepared with a mix incorporating ancho and fig leaf. They’re lightly battered and fried to the gentlest, crisp finish that yields like funnel cake and holds a little sweetness. Its juicy interior is another successful juxtaposition, and that the plate shines in particular among other stunners points to signature dish status.
The Vibe: Casually romantic and comfortable enough across the compact configuration of tables and chairs. (No booths or banquettes.)
The Food: “Tuscan mountain fare” with excellent beef tartare, lumache al ragù and fried quail.
The Drinks: A great short menu of classic cocktails, full bar and terrific, long wine list.
Etrusca is located at 53 Stone Street. It is open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday from 6pm-10pm.