Pasta is the star of Fabio Trabocchi’s latest success, Sfoglina (pronounced sfoal-yee-nah). The Van Ness trattoria takes its name from the mostly female artisans in Italy’s restaurants who handcraft the foodstuff in endless shapes. “Pasta is the most Italian thing to do,” the chef explains. “That’s part joke and part absolute truth, but it’s in our DNA.”
It’s the fourth restaurant in the James Beard Award winner’s ever-expanding empire, which includes Fiola, Fiola Mare and Casa Luca. The spot has approximately 70 seats inside, complemented by another 20 or so on the covered patio. The best in the house are those at the counter overlooking the open kitchen, where cooks wearing driver black caps diligently work.
Trabocchi and executive chef Michael Fusano oversee the pass, managing the flow of food and signing off on each dish before it goes out into the dining room. Bone white with touches of burlap brown, the space exudes a casual Mediterranean sensibility, decorated with vintage Italian album covers in the back and striking handblown glass chandeliers throughout.
There’s a cozy six-person bar near the host stand, where guests can grab a drink if their table isn’t ready. Go for the Negroni. Aged for 40 days, it starts with a touch of sweet and settles on the tongue with a hint of bitter. The svelte Van Ness Manhattan is another charmer, balanced with orange bitters.
The concept is upscale, but straightforward, according to Trabocchi. Instead of a traditional bread basket, guests are given paper bags holding crunchy shards of cracker-like streghe, so they won’t bog themselves down with an excess of carbs. There are a handful of appetizers, designed to be lighter and flavorful, including a tumble of prosciutto ribbons with candied persimmons hiding in the gentle pink-and-white folds. Thin strips of red pepper stewed with orange zest and plenty of basil are a simple pleasure. My favorite? A small ball of buffalo-milk mozzarella speckled with olive salt sitting in tonnato sauce boasting a briny boost from preserved tuna, anchovies and capers. The soft cheese practically melts on the tongue, leaving just a whisper of flavor.
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