Just over a year old, but with a window full of gastronomic accolades, former Le Cirque pastry chef Iacopo Falai's eponymously named Clinton Street joint radiates with new flavor and experimentation of Florentine style brought to the Lower East Side. With white tile, white tables, white chairs, white candles, and a white-bricked garden, Falai relies upon the reflections of dining patrons in the mirrors and the color of food on plates to bring color where color is due. When Gothamist visited on a recent night, reservations were required even for an early seat--upon sitting waiters hovered with the night's menu, immediately taking beverage orders and reciting the evening's specialties.
The menu can be overwhelming at first. Gothamist suggests asking the waiters for recommendations both for wine and food, which is broken down into sections of Antipasti, Pasta, Pesce, Carni, and Dolce ("classic" and "non-classic"). With a selection of over a dozen whites and twice that many reds, bottles start reasonably at $35 and a handful of wines are available by the glass.
Antipasti are advisedly small and difficult to share, but offer flavors and textures--foams and crisps--that only a seasoned and risk-taking chef is willing to offer. A small sphere of pistachio-studded goat cheese accompanied options of mini baguettes, black cabbage, or whole wheat rosemary-raisin bread, all made on premises and served by a bread waiter. Sfogliata, an antipasti of cubes of butternut squash and porcini mushrooms was studded with Parmesan crisps swirled with a Taleggio cheese foam. Polenta Bianca is served with chicken liver, dried dates, and chanterelles, a warm pesto soup arrived in a teapot and poured over lightly roasted baby onions, a lone carrot, brussel sprout halves, and a fingerling potato.
Intense, but ethereal flavors were a persistent theme. Even the gnudi, baby spinach and ricotta cheese gnocchi with a butter and sage sauce were creamy without overwhelming; pappardelle arrive with green peas and a wild boar ragu without being weighty. The pesce, or seafood, are presented with similar intensity and inventiveness, often to the point of being difficult to approach. Dishes never arrive the way you might expect Italian food to--warming bowls of pasta, meaty fillets of pan-roasted fish. Gothamist gambled with the swordfish specialty of the night, which turned out to be a carpaccio with cubed roasted beets, and citrus gelee--not exactly the swordfish we'd had in mind.
Little accoutrements like warm rounds of sea-salt studded focaccia bread served mid-meal, and small plate of petit fours served as requisite with dessert act as comforting pats on the back for meal whose flavors you are constantly trying to detect, whose textures you must work to grasp. Smoky fish, crispy cheese, mellow foams, nutty purees are all in Falai's big bag of tricks. As a diner, be willing to experiment, to expect the unexpected, and to leave feeling alarmingly light considering the number of ingredients that will tempt your tastebuds.
Falai is located at 68 Clinton Street (between Rivington & Stanton), 212-253-1960. Open for dinner. Closed Mondays. Reservations recommended.