Restaurant Review: Tom Colicchio’s Vallata in Union Square

The downside with Tom Colicchio’s new restaurant, Vallata, isn’t the cooking, most of which is excellent and a few of which is great. All of it’s Italian, in a country trattoria model based mostly on components plucked from the Union Square Greenmarket, a couple of blocks from Vallata’s location on East 19th Street. “Colicchio cooks Italian” will not be a revolutionary concept, however at the least it’s a coherent one which hasn’t been tried earlier than.

The bother is that the meals raises expectations for the remainder of the expertise that Mr. Colicchio doesn’t observe via on, and even appears conscious of. The cooking places Vallata in direct competitors with Via Carota, Lilia, Misi, Vic’s and Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, for starters. Each of these locations has an environment that’s calibrated to drag you into one imaginative and prescient of European informal eating or one other, from the architect-designed farmhouse look of Misi to the “Antiques Roadshow” muddle of Via Carota.

After opening in April as a brief pop-up, Vallata is getting everlasting standing, Mr. Colicchio stated in a telephone name on Monday. It hasn’t been given an environment of its personal, although. The eating room, subsequent door to Mr. Colicchio’s flagship, Craft, is a clumsy pastiche of bland, vaguely company design and odd ornamental hand-me-downs which have served time in different Colicchio eating places.

The customary cliché about eating places in the rustic-Italian style, immortalized in dozens of Zagat blurbs, is that consuming there is sort of a journey to Italy with out the airfare. Vallata manages to show the cliché on its head: You don’t consider for a second that you just’ve left New York, however you do begin to assume the restaurant itself might use a trip.

Mr. Colicchio might properly assume Vallata’s cooking is robust sufficient to get by by itself charms. He wouldn’t be far off. He and his cooks have been shopping for from farmers at Union Square for the reason that 1990s, and the meals he’s finest identified for has at all times been deeply knowledgeable by the minimalist pressure in Italian cooking. At Craft in specific, he leaned on Italian cooking and steakhouse tropes to interrupt away from the French nouvelle delicacies mannequin of sauced and garnished plates that had been the default model in formidable American eating places for the reason that 1980s.

The chef Tom Colicchio has put Vallata’s kitchen in the cost of a trusted lieutenant, Bryan Hunt, left.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

And so it’s no shock to get a bowlful of Romano beans at Vallata which have been braised after which dressed with a pulp of ripe, warmed tomatoes. What you don’t fairly anticipate, although, is simply how supple the beans are — not crunchy or mushy, however virtually as silky as recent pasta, and simply pretty much as good at carrying the sauce.

Young, just-budding artichokes are mandolined into shavings not a lot thicker than the wings of a dragonfly. They sit in lemon juice, recent mint and greater than a pinch of dried chile flakes till they lose their squeak however not their crunch. There are only some weeks a yr when yow will discover artichokes price consuming this fashion, and only some eating places that anticipate these weeks to roll round. It’s a present to have a brand new one in city.

The salad of summer time squash minimize into skinny belts and dressed with a deeply fragrant pressure of basil evokes summer time each bit as intensely, although in a quieter means. You can observe that dish with one other tribute to basil: the lengthy, dangling strands of strozzapreti thickly dressed with pesto, and never expertise any monotony in any respect.

Cacio e pepe had been cooked somewhat too lengthy the night time I attempted it. But the hand-rolled cavatelli have been completely agency for clinging to the tangy braise of shredded oxtails with raisins and a bittersweet undertow of cocoa.

As at Craft, dishes are served family-style, at the least in the way in which that eating places outline that time period. Most actual households would need greater than three meatballs for the desk. But at Vallata, every is in regards to the measurement of a baseball. Made with veal and ricotta, they’re the colour of ivory on the within. These admirably tender cheese-and-meat dumplings sit in sufficient tomato gravy that I discovered myself utilizing each slices of grilled sourdough to soak it up, after which wishing I hadn’t eaten the whole piece of focaccia the minute it arrived.

Chicken is braised with tomatoes and peppers, then pulled aside and reintroduced to the pan juices.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

More grilled bread is served alongside the hen braised with pink peppers and tomatoes. It seems to be watery, however with one style you understand that the “water” is the results of trapping all of the flavors of hen and greens in the pan. It’s an astonishing dish.

There could also be an excessive amount of combat left in the thicket of broccoli rabe that dominates a plate of thin lamb sausages. But a lot of the menu is nice sufficient to make you would like that as a lot effort had been put into different points of the restaurant.

You begin to marvel how dedicated Mr. Colicchio is to the thought earlier than you stroll via the door. The identify Vallata hangs in the window, nevertheless it’s much less seen than the Craft Private Dining signal. Two visitors who have been attempting to fulfill me at Vallata have been so confused they walked two doorways down into Craft, to ask instructions.

Mr. Colicchio renovated the non-public eating space shortly earlier than Covid arrived. In the age of the pandemic pivot, no person will fault him for turning it right into a restaurant when the private-dining enterprise evaporated. But up to now, he hasn’t given Vallata a character of its personal. The cooks, led by Bryan Hunt, who runs culinary operations for Mr. Colicchio’s restaurant group, stand facet by facet dealing with the eating room. They appear like contestants on a sport present set in the breakfast-buffet space of an upscale chain resort.

The meals deserves a extra atmospheric eating room.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The solely contact that evokes a trattoria is the brown butcher-paper on the tables. The partitions are hung with three work of cows that have been just lately relocated from one in every of Mr. Colicchio’s Las Vegas eating places. If you might be hoping the music will set the temper, neglect it. The playlist shambles from Paul Simon to Billy Joel to Echo and the Bunnymen to David Bowie. It’s as if Mr. Colicchio had introduced in a combination tape he discovered inside an outdated Walkman in his basement.

An Italian restaurant overseen by Tom Colicchio deserves its personal playlist. It deserves a room of its personal, too. You wish to consider he’s excited in regards to the venture. But there’s little signal of that, so as a substitute you marvel if perhaps you shouldn’t go eat at one other restaurant the place the cooking follows roughly the identical traces and the folks in cost appear to be, you realize, into it.

What the Stars Mean Because of the pandemic, eating places aren’t being given star scores.

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