Faustina NYC: Italian food at the Cooper Square Hotel
We admit it: we're not huge fans of chef Scott Conant's much-loved Italian restaurant Scarpetta, in the Meatpacking District. Admittedly, this is based on a single dinner, eaten a year or so ago, but still, we were underwhelmed by the attitude, whelmed by the food, overwhelmed by the size of our check, and haven't returned since. Then a couple of weeks ago Scott Conant opened Faustina at the Cooper Square Hotel in the East Village, and the menu reads amazing, and the prices look much more reasonable, so we figured we'd give the guy another shot. And, for the most part, we're really glad we did.
Faustina NYC, with both a busy bar and an upscale-casual dining room, takes up much of the ground floor of the Cooper Square Hotel in Manhattan. The design of the dining area is comfortable and contemporary, a nice tweaking of what we saw of the short-lived Table 8, which used to occupy the space. The service at Faustina NYC was a bit too attentive, perhaps (it's always best to let diners at least finish chewing their last bite before you remove a plate, in our opinion) but mostly friendly and professional. The prices are good, for this type of food, in this type of space. And the food? We tried five dishes; the results were mixed.
First, the tasty stuff. The best dish of the night–and one of our favorite plates of the year so far–was the Semolina Dumplings, the crispy, chewy, pillowy mounds of dough topped with a dollop of dense marrow and a mound of tender, shredded oxtail. With four of these rib-sticking beauties priced in the low teens, this is also an excellent deal. Also very good was chef Scott Conant's generously-portioned Spaghetti with Octopus Ragu: the pasta perfect, with plenty of bite; the cephalopod tender and tasting of the sea. These two dishes would make for a satisfying meal on their own, but we had to try the dish everyone is talking about, the (incredibly inexpensive) $6 plate of Grilled Ciabatta, the three thick slices of crunchy, greasy bread accompanied by a dipping skillet of poached duck egg and warm, melty fonduta. This is more fun than flavor-filled, perhaps, but for six bucks, it'd be tough not to order again.
Much less successful were our two forays into the raw bar section of the menu. Everything sounds terrific here, but our Scallop Carpaccio, and its accompanying caviar, was completely drowned out by sour slices of citrus something. It looked pretty on the plate, though. Also a miss (and, at $15, a pricey one at that): the raw Kanpachi (or, amberjack), with too few porcini, and way too many roasted garlic chips, the only thing you'll really taste here. The basic takeaway: you can have a terrific, high-end meal at Faustina NYC, for a bargain price, if you stick to one "hot" starter, and a pasta.
Faustina NYC at The Cooper Square Hotel Details
Faustina in located at the Cooper Square Hotel in NYC, on the east side of Cooper Square, between 5th and 6th Streets. Lunch is served during the week from 12:00 until 2:30, and dinner begins every night at 5:30 until 11:00, Sunday through Tuesday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. For more information and a look at a sample menu, see the Faustina NYC menupages.