It has been a long time since I have been surprised by the food or wine being event good at an unexpected restaurant. Most of the time, when I dine out, I have a general idea of whether a meal will be successful or not via reviews I’ve read, opinions of close friends or my near psychic 6th sense. Rarely do I stumble upon that rare gem that no one has heard of – working in the industry will do that to a person. Then, one evening, in came Felice, a very unexpecting and unexpected wine bar and restaurant on 64th street and 1st avenue.
I had been casually searching for a cozy wine bar in the neighborhood of a certain gentleman (you lucky b*tch) and almost gave up when I came across a tiny review on Felice, the author noted that it was inviting, warm, cozy, perfect for a date and the food was great too. Check, check, check and check. Off we went to sample the wines and edibles at this alleged cutie-pie of a wine bar.
For those of us who grew up on or live in the upper east side, the blocks east of 2nd avenue tends to be no-mans land: mostly residential, far from the 6 train, peppered with old standbys like neighborhood video rental stores. As we walked towards our destination I became less confident that this was going to be a stellar dinner…until we came upon the corner space and peered through the glass walls and saw what was one of the coziest, warmest and most inviting spaces I have seen in a very long time. Felice is appointed with a long communal table and smaller two-tops running along the periphery of the space: one diner sits on a chair and the other, sits across from them in a very comfortable banquette outfitted with a brown leather seat cover reminiscent of a man’s suit. The lighting is soft and romantic and (dare I say it?) AvroKo-esque.
Once we sat down another glass of Vermentino was in order (we already had one at the bar, of course). The wine was delicately priced at $11 a glass and it’s one of my favorite pre-dinner wines. Tart and refreshing with floral notes, Vermentino will surely get an appetite going (not that I need any help in that department, at all). We had agreed to order the cheese and charcuterie plate which arrived quickly and with 5 different meats and 5 cheeses nearly falling off the plate – portions are not meager here. The selection of both meats and cheeses was refined and well thought out. There was a fine Pecorino for the fair-weather cheese lover and a more complex Gorgonzola Piccante for the any-weather cheese lover. There was a mild prosciutto di Parma for the baby-carnivore and a Bresaola for the air cured meat fans.
Next came the spinach and ricotta ravioli with sage butter sauce which we shared. The dish was rustic but light – incredibly fresh ingredients were used with thought and care. The classic pairing of spinach and ricotta was delicious and the ravioli was delicate and beautifully done. It was a well executed, classic Italian pasta dish. I would come back just for this, if I had to.
Soon after, the Branzino arrived in all it’s almost-charred, pan-seared glory. The fish was cooked perfectly and well seasoned with a nice crust. I was surprised at how well executed the fish was. Not that I expected to eat chum, but the food was unarguably well done.
The gelato we shared for dessert left me wishing I had ordered something else (it was no Grom) but with half a bottle of wine + 2 more glasses in me, damn if I cared eh?
The food wasn’t groundbreaking at Felice but it was memorable, comfortable, simple and unpretentious. It’s clear that the chef treats his ingredients with respect and knows how to execute a dish and bring out the simple flavors of each component. It’s a restaurant that we should all want in our neighborhood, an inviting space which calls us to gather with friends at it’s communal table or have a romantic date for two with a bottle of wine and a few notes of conversation. I will be back at Felice and looking forward to making it a new neighborhood haunt.
Felice//1st Avenue @ 64th St//(212) 593-2223
Entrees $14 – $29
Words to dine by: rustic, romantic, cozy