We knew it was early to be trying Faustina given that it’s been open for 2 weeks but being huge fans of Scarpetta, we really could not resist the temptation of Scott Conant’s wise “Italian-as-interpreted-by-other-cultures” ways on a cold winter night.
It began with five of us in the rather masculine bar area which is interesting considering the restaurant is “named after a Roman empress whose monument is the only building inside the Roman Forum dedicated to a woman”. The decor runs towards the Scarpetta equation of dark leather cocktail seats, tall wood tables and dark tiles lining the undulating ceiling. Not bad considering the team had four weeks to transform the former-and-never-opened Table 8 space into Faustina.
As we were drinking rather delicious but uninspired cocktails in a cold room and mulling over the sharable menu choices, we had agreed to start with the roasted beets with pink peppercorns and taleggio, tuna and avocado “salad”, and Mediterranean octopus with fingerling potatoes and olive oil. These dishes were all about the combination of flavors and the whole of the dishes being more than the sum of its parts: the filthy and stinky taleggio creates a nice balance with the sweet beets while the combination of tuna + avocado has exisited since time eternal. Nice, but again, uninspired.
The second course was all about the pastas: naturally, we had to order Chef Conant’s self-proclaimed “sex-in-a-bowl” pasta with sea urchin and tomato sauce. We also decided on the cannelloni with burrata and baby tomatoes to satisfy the burrata addict in all of us. Surprisingly, the cannelloni won by leaps and bounds. It was hearty, homey, warm and heavy; just delicious and gooey. Everything you want in cannelloni. The sea urchin pasta? Well, if that was “sex-in-a-bowl” then I’ll have to slip out the door quietly at 4am. It just wasn’t that good…but I wanted it to be…
Next up was the grande dame of dinner: the meat course. We tried the short ribs of beef with spaetzle plus the pork belly with potato and grain mustard, and for sides the eggplant with pork shoulder, truffled cabbage and the mushrooms. Seven words for the short ribs: do it to me one more time; the tender texture and flavorful meat coupled with the chewy texture of the spaetzle was a real delight. The pork belly was also rather tasty especially with the texture-lending, crisp piece of bacon it was served with. The sides were just ok (save for the woodsy and very fresh mushrooms). The eggplant and pork shoulder was overpowered by a heavy hand of rosemary.The cabbage was as good as anything “truffled”.
The three desserts we ordered were accompanied by a nice bottle of Muscado d’Asti which finished off the meal on a civilized-version-of-inebriation tip. The date pudding with currant compote and prune ice cream was a clear winter winner; the slightly sticky and dense pudding (more of a moist “cake”) wasn’t too sweet and left us with a warm and fuzzy holiday dessert feeling.
I won’t dare to comment on the service. It’s not fair given Faustina is two weeks old and still has a few kinks to work out before it reaches Scarpetta A-list level.
All in all a warm, hearty meal with dynamite potential. I will be back to for short ribs and date pudding. And, maybe, another chance to sneek a peek at Scott Conant.
Faustina @ The Cooper Square Hotel
25 Cooper Square, NYC