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Yet they were ponderously overfried and gluey. Chicken, pressed under a brick, had tantalizingly bronzed, crispy skin and juicy, slightly lemon-y meat, but was intolerably salty. Ditto nearly every pasta I tried.
A passing acquaintance with nuance would also go a long way. Witness linguine with clams, which arrived swimming in a watery white wine sauce overwhelmed by lip-burning red peppers, the tiny Manila clams taken well past their optimum texture. Some dishes were just flat-out disasters, starting with a truly unappetizing conglomeration of a forgettable polenta covered with overcooked prawns and an ungainly blanket of mozzarella.
Yet there were bright spots. I could happily sit down to the tubes of toothy rigatoni coated with guanciale-enriched cream sauce and served with plenty of Cossetta’s well-seasoned sausage.
The kitchen has an affinity for beef, whether it’s grilled (a porterhouse), braised (short ribs) or raw (a sweet, velvety carpaccio). Veal, too, pan-seared with butter and herbs.
There’s a colorful, artfully composed salad of beets and tangy goat cheese, the traditional pasta e fagioli soup is wonderfully redolent with smoky ham, and given the workrooms downstairs, it’s no surprise that there’s a perfectly pleasant antipasti platter and a handful of appealing desserts.
Prices are competitive, and service wasn’t particularly polished. It was, however, overwhelmingly enthusiastic, with a genuinely warm welcome at the host stand and some of the most gregarious, fun-loving servers I’ve encountered in recent memory.
The other newcomer, the first-floor pasticceria, is a revelation, a bakery of admirable ambition, quality and execution.
The sheer volume of pretty, diet-busting goodies is far too extensive to cover in a few paragraphs.
Here’s a capsule. Picture sleek display cases loaded with a Willy Wonka-like collection of silver-dollar-scaled and not-too-sweet cookies: crispy, butter discs gleaming with a tart lemon glaze, crumbly pecan lovelies, round sandwiches filled with Nutella, tiny chocolate-vanilla checkerboards, amaretto-flavored crackles, pine-nut-studded drops.
It’s easy to get lost in the crunchy nut-coated biscotti, the flaky palmiers, the tiny raspberry tarts glistening with sugar, the tangy miniature Key lime pies, the golden apple tarts, the delicate Napoleons lavishly filled with rich pastry cream, the fluted éclairs, the plump, chocolate-coated cream puffs and the dense, creamy cheesecakes.
There are delightfully rich gelati and vibrant, clean-tasting sorbets. The kitchen also turns out tempting confections, mixing them with imported Italian chocolate truffles.
Even the basics are noteworthy. Coffees hail from Italian-based Lavazza, of course, and the chocolate-chip cookie, dense with bittersweet chocolate, is one of the genre’s shining lights.
The elegant room, slathered in enough pink Italian marble to remake several Vatican restrooms, has one failing: It’s not nearly roomy enough. It’s wedged between the market and the eatery, with just enough square footage to house a cramped row of small tables. Is that any way to treat such a glamorous star?
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib.
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