Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A rocky start at Stecchino

As I reported last week, Stecchino just opened on 9th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. With the Mom in town on business and looking to get dinner with the bro and me, I chose Stecchino as our destination.

I will preface this by saying yes, it just opened, and yes, to some extent we should give new restaurants a break. But Stecchino really didn't have its act together. When I called last week to make a reservation, I was instructed to call back the next day when the man on the phone had a reservation book in which to write my request. Okay, fair enough. But we visited when the place was open for real, and everything still screamed soft-opening. Maybe Stecchino just needs some time?

Perhaps. Our server was friendly but almost cringeingly unsure of herself. We placed our orders and bread appeared, sans bread plates, with a tiny pot of olive oil in a receptacle that wasn't conducive to dipping. The bread itself was dry and a tad burnt. Oh well.

No go

Ten minutes or so passed, and Mom and the bro got their salads. They had both chosen the Caesar; Mom without dressing, the bro with. The review was thoroughly "meh"-- it was basically just lettuce with one creative parmesan crisp and standard Caesar dressing. No croutons or anchovies, the bro pointed out. Point taken.

Nothin' special

Salad course down, we waited for our entrees. And waited. And waited. Almost fifty minutes had passed since we sat down at the table before our entrees arrived... and for context, there was ONE (yes, one) other occupied table--a two-top--in the restaurant during that time period. No matter; we were ready to eat. The bro had skipped an entree since apparently he had just consumed chicken pot pie a couple of hours earlier. Mom went for the salmon with warm roasted sherry vinaigrette (roasted sherry? huh?); she substituted asparagus for the brussels sprouts. It was a relatively small portion, but she enjoyed it.

The star of the night

My choice was the fennel and artichoke salad with celeriac, pecorino, parsley leaf, and lemon. This salad was just plain weird. The texture was all crunch, with nothing to offset all the roughage, and the taste was uniformly bland. There was no zip, no punch--not even the few shards of pecorino could perk it up. About halfway through I found myself wondering, when is this going to end? There needed some textural and flavorful contrast-- like green apple, or olives, or something with some zing. At least this portion was ample (perhaps a bit too much so).

Just too much texture

Since the entrees had taken so long to arrive, we decided not to risk ordering dessert and instead asked for the check. My mom threw down her debit card and was informed, in a manner apologetic bordering on ashamed, that the restaurant was cash only. Apparently they're getting a cash machine in but it hasn't arrived yet. Oy.

So, let's examine the pro-con breakdown here. Pro: relatively extensive menu; reasonable prices; a pretty dining room (check out the diorama-like installation in the floor opposite the bar); friendly staff; good location (for me); pricing transparency (our server informed us of the one-free-refill limit before charging us for another one). Cons: food not great; bad bread; way, wayyyy too long for entrees to arrive; no salt and pepper on the table; cash only; booth was bach-achingly uncomfortable; only one free refill on the shot-glass-sized beverages before they're $1 apiece. So basically, I don't know what to think. I want to give Stecchino a chance, because if it evolves into a great restaurant, it will be a huge asset to the neighborhood. As a result, I'm going to hold off on awarding spatulas at this point; I hope to visit again once they get their act together. Stay tuned.

765 Ninth Avenue (between 51st and 52nd streets)

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