“God, I could live here,” one diner cooed in between hearty tangles of red fife tagliatelle on a recent night. And it wasn’t just the house wine talking—it’s hard not to be taken with the many charms of La Pecora Bianca, a corner trattoria from Claudette owner Mark Barak in the historic St. James building.
Like that leisurely Provençal bistro, Pecora’s 85-seat, window-flanked dining room draws from the countryside, this time Italy’s small-town farmhouses and rural kitchens: Mint-green chairs snuggle up to wood-plank tables, jars of pickling vegetables and bottles of sparkling rosé sit prettily on illuminated shelves and walls are garnished with hand-painted tiles, copper bundt pans and soft-hued sheep-patterned wallpaper. The livestock motif pops up often— the restaurant’s name translates to “the white sheep,” and dishes from charred figs to a Tuscan kale salad are dabbed with whips of ricotta made from the animal’s milk.
The chef is Simone Bonelli, a Modena native who served as sous chef for Italy’s megawatt Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana before earning flattering reviews of his own at East Village enoteca Perbacco, but his menu speaks as clearly of a locavore discipline as it does pastoral Italian.
Bonelli makes all pasta in house using organic New York and Pennsylvania grains, stuff like whole-wheat chitarra and buckwheat fusilli. Curls of einkorn gramigna ($18) have a nice chili thrum from the nubs of house pork sausage that join sweet broccolini stalks, though the olive-oil–based sauce that coats them runs thin. The licorice funk of the fennel pesto that slicks a plate of emmer strozzapreti ($22) is more successful, standing up to that pasta’s nuttiness, boosted by pistachio and brightened with a dusting of dried bottarga.
Skip mundane mains like underseared scallops over a monotonous hash of cauliflower and lima beans ($30) for a spread of Bonelli’s antipasti, like a braised whole artichoke ($14), earthy and virtuous, with a generous swipe of mint aioli speckled with brackish anchovy powder. With each toothsome leaf, you’ll wish every dish at La Pecora were this good—or at least as deserving of the seductive space it’s served in.