Faustina will be – if it isn’t already – the new hip and happening place to see, be seen and to eat. Scott Conant, you have out done yourself! Fabulous atmosphere. Great bar. Great food. Friendly staff. Can a piece of cutlery really ask for more? For those of you out there who don’t recognize Scott Conant’s name, he is the owner of Scarpetta, both in New York and Miami. He is also the very particular judge on Food Network’s Chopped – he doesn’t like red onions and is of the school of thought against Italian seafood dishes and cheese. As a joking aside, Scott, Fork and Spoon would gladly debate you on that one!
Faustino popped up on Fork and Spoon’s radar due to two things – one, small plates; and, two, their fried chicken.
But Italian seafood and cheese notwithstanding, Faustina is outstanding! Fork and Spoon have no picture of the outside, as there is nothing indicating the restaurant. You walk into the Cooper Square Hotel, the restaurant is to the left, but you enter through the right, through the lobby, down a hall and through a big, heavy door. But once you enter, you are greeted by an enthusiasm and warmth that is very welcoming and comforting.
Fork arrived early and decided to sit at the bar and have a drink. The bar also serves food and accepts walk-ins. Fork had a Ne’Roni cocktail – nero d’avola (a sicilian wine), gin, campari and sweet vermouth. Packs a whallop, let me tell you, but oh so good. Along with the yummy cocktail, the bartender brought sweet and spicy almonds. What a nice way to sit and wait for Spoon. As soon as Spoon arrived, we were shown to a table.
The tables for two are very large – all the tables are very large. banquettes against the wall, leather chairs opposite. Very comfortable. Very warm in decor. There are a couple of tables for large parties in the main dining room. Large round tables – so large that Fork and Spoon cannot imagine how people can have a conversation across the table. There is also a communal table that seats 12.
Our waiter, Justin, was terrific. Very friendly, very attentive, very knowledgable about the menu, eager to make a suggestion and not afraid to say what his favorite dishes were on the menu.
We asked for iced and were told that they didn’t have iced tea yet (Faustina, at the time of this review, was open for a week). Eyebrows raised, would Faustina need to be Chopped for this faus pax? After a few minutes of gabbing and perusing the menu, Justin returned to see if we were ready to order and Spoon asked for two hot teas and two large glasses of ice. Justin looked at us strangely, smiled, and said ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Sigh. While he was going through this ritual, he found out there actually now was iced tea. The iced tea is good, NOT bottomless, and $4 a glass.
We were told by Justin that everything was served as small plates, and 3 to 5 dishes per person was suggested. That seemed like a lot, but I guess that depends on your appetite.
We started with the Stromboli. The stromboli was rolled with prosciutto and smoked mozzarella. Just the right proportion of each. There was just a hint of fresh basil in each bite as well - basil always makes you smile and think of summer. The dough was great. A lot of times the problem with stromboli is that the inside dough is uncooked. This was cooked straight through and perfectly done. The bread itself had a nice crust and tooth to it. Five slices of stromboli nestled in a napkin. One complaint, it was stone cold.
The second small dish we decided to try was Grilled Ciabatta, Poached Duck Egg and Fonduta. What arrived were large chunks of nicely grilled ciabatta. You are so focused on these large slices of beautiful bread that it takes you a moment to notice the small cast iron skillet next to the bread. The skillet was about a 1/2″ high and about 4″ in diameter. The pan was filled with the fonduta - Italian cheese fondue. Nestled in the center of the fonduta was a perfectly poached duck egg. Oh, I get it. The ciabatta, the duck egg, and the fonduta, what a great combination. The fonduta was speckled with pepper and finely chopped herbs, the lightest drizzle of truffle oil on top.
Next came Burrata in Carozza with bagna cauda. Fork and Spoon are not fans of the anchovy. We asked Justin if the bagna cauda could be kept on the side. Apparently, the bagna cauda is poured tableside. Perfect. They brought our beautiful little dish and a small pitcher with the bagna cauda. Justin, sorry, the bagna cauda is VERY fishy. Thank goodness we asked for it on the side. The Burrata in Carozza is perhps 2″ in diameter. The thinnest slices of bread, lightly fried, the gentle burrata nestled inside. Burrata is an Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell of the cheese is mozzarella while the inner part is mozzarella and cream. It is a very soft, delicate, creamy. Sadly, this was stone cold, which caused the cheese to seize a little. While the flavors were great, the coldness was a little unpleasant.
Next arrived Balsamic-Glazed Pork Spare Ribs. What a great presentation. The ribs were fall off the bone tender. Easy to eat with a fork and knife, small enough to pick up if you were the one lucky enough to have your back to the dining room. The balsamic glaze was sweet, but not cloyingly so. The tomato chutney sitting on top was really good, a slight kick to it to add another layer to the acidic sweetness from the balsamic.
Finally arriving was our reason for being, the Friend Chicken. This was served on top of a very rich porcini and potato stufato. The chicken was great. One pice of dark meat and one piece of white meat. The white meat was very moist. The coating on the chicken very crisp and very flavorful. We are still trying to figure out what it was. It was more than flour. Not necessarily a bread crumb. Whatever it was, it was seasoned perfectly. The stufato was so rich and tasty. More potato than porcini, but more porcini would have overpowered the whole dish, much less the potatoes. They were the perfect ‘go with’ for the friend chicken.
Dessert was a very difficult decision. There are so many delicious choice.We again turned to Justin, and his choices were perfect.
Our first dessert was Apple Strudel. Let’s start with – this ain’t your grandma’s apple strudel. The filling was intensely apple. The crust was not a flaky puff pastry type crust , but more of a thin, pie crust. Delicious. Served along with the strudel was a scoop of cinnamon and cider caramel icecream. There were streaks of caramel adorning the plate. And – oh, wait – what are those? Not gelee. Not again. Not after the last debacle with gelee. Fork and Spoon tentatively picked up the gelee. WHEW! Cider. And yummy! What a great dessert.
The second dessert we have to try was the Torrone Panna Cotta. The name alone brought back memories of buying torrone at the San Genaro or St. Anthony Feast. You would walk up to the stand, ask for some, they would hit a piece off with a hammer, and you would merrily walk away, chomping, hoping your fillings wouldn’t come out. The panna cotta was light and delicate, and also dense and rich. The flavor was great. But then you add to that slivers of nougat, a drizzle of honey caramel, pistachios and a quenelle of milk chocolate ice and you have perfection. The last added bit of goodness were two pistachio meringue straws. Just another layer of flavor and crunch to this great dessert. You knew the flavor of the Torrone instantly.
This place is great. It was a fresh, hip vibe – great food, good music, big drinks, great new chef! Give it a whirl. You won’t be sorry!