In a place with as much Italian heritage as New York City, cooking traditional Italian food can be perilous. Americans are used to shredding cheese on their bolognese (and pretty much everything else for that matter) and waiters with comically over-sized pepper grinders. But don’t expect any of the greasy trappings of Italian-American cuisine at Storico, the chic white-walled restaurant tucked into the side of the New-York Historical Society.
This kitchen at Storico is currently being run by chef Tim Kensett, who recently moved to the city after leaving London’s famed River cafe, where he worked under chef Ruth Rodgers. He says that his food is inspired by his experience at River Cafe, the Michelin-starred restaurant known for producing acclaimed chefs like April Bloomfield and Jamie Oliver. So, fan’s of the London institution might want to stop by for a taste of home.
Kensett’s menu focuses on fresh central Italian dishes and unusually successful handmade pastas (if you are lucky enough to find ravioli on the revolving menu, do not hesitate to order). Kensett has also brought a convivial atmosphere to the light and airy restaurant. Expect him to stop by your table for a chat, and take the opportunity to question him on the all-Italian wine list, which he describes as his night-time passion.
But it takes more than a gregarious chef to make a restaurant a success — especially one as hidden as Storico. Luckily, the food commands respect.
The tagliarini con burro e tartufo bianco is a highlight, made even better by the careful and sparing use of truffle (the abuse of truffles is a sin being committed daily by nearly all the chefs in all of the city’s finest restaurants). The mozzarella di bufala is rich and creamy with hint of fresh yogurt flavor. It’s served on a bed of wilted dandelions with a sprinkling of green chili, creating a warm and bitter balance.
For something a little more rustic in the cold winter months, try the coniglio fritto, fried rabbit meant to be eaten with your hands (a bowl of lemon and water is provided once you have finished). The fry reminded me of the slightly gritty catfish batter I grew up eating in Nashville and it was a wonderful compliment to the rabbit.
Museum cafe’s are often dreary places full of exhausted children and overpriced salads. Not so at Storico, the unsung hero of museum dining. And it is certainly the only museum restaurant worth making a destination in itself. Order a pasta, a bottle of wine, and worry about hitting the museum another time.