Susan Rike invited me and a few other food writers to sample the food at Fiorini. The restaurant has been around since 2006 and is the creation of Restaurateur-Chef Lello Arpaia. This is one of those classic NYC restaurants. The space is large for NYC standards, very clean and open. The service was impeccable. My favorite part (after the food) was chatting up with Mr. Arpaia who is incredibly sweet and down to earth. If the name looks familiar, it is because he Donatella Arpaia’s dad. Now; let’s talk about the food.
Our tasting started off with the polpo ai ferri (grilled octopus). I’m a huge fan of octopus, so this was a great way to begin. It was perfectly grilled, tender and delicious. It was accompanied by tomatoes, caper berries, arugula and red onions. The caper berries added a nice touch of salinity which worked very well with this oceanic dish.
The burrata followed. This was some of the creamiest burrata I had tasted in a while. On the plate were roasted peppers, asparagus and prosciutto di Parma. I know I should focus on the prosciutto, but what really impressed me on this plate was the asparagus. It was perfectly cooked and incredibly flavorful. I think the asparagus could easily become the protagonist on this dish.
By this time conversation was flowing and the table was anticipating the rest of the dishes. It was time for the pasta fresca: homemade pappardelle with crab, basil and cherry tomatoes in a lobster broth. The flavors of the dish were elegant. The basil brought in a touch of freshness and brightness to it.
I would choose the risotto ai frutti di mare over the pappardelle. The risotto featured crab, diver scallops, shrimp, and calamari in a seafood broth. I enjoyed the balance in this dish. Although it was creamy and decadent, the flavors were subtle and pleasing.
I had a hard time deciding which of the next two dishes I liked best. A whole branzino was ordered for the table. In true NYC style, the fish was brought over whole to the table and then taken back to be served. This time it was capers and lemons that brought salinity and memories of Italian beaches to the table. The fish was flaky, juicy and incredibly fresh.
There was a nice surprise in between the main courses. Mr. Arpaia had Chef Quispilema prepare some gorgeous scallops for us. They were juicy and tender inside, crunchy on top and enhanced with a touch of mozzarella. I was not expecting the cheese and thought that it may have overpowered the dish; but this was not the case. The cheese added a fun touch to the scallop.
Our meat dish was a petto d’anatra. I know of many people who dislike duck because of its sweetness and fattiness. I always tell them that properly prepared duck is neither. This pan seared duck breast was refined. The poached Barlett pears that accompanied it added texture and flavor. I would recommend this dish to duck lovers and haters alike.
It was time for dolci. We started off with a Baba. If you have never had it, think of it as a rum cake. Fiorini’s baba was light and airy, not to sweet. A great dessert for those looking for something not overly rich, but still indulgent.
I will say I preferred the tortino di cioccolato. It was rich, naughty and worth every calorie.
Final note: wine director Stefano Conenna does an amazing job with the wines at the restaurant.
Fiorini is located at 209 East 56th Street (Between Second Avenue and Third Avenue) in New York. (212) 308-0830
Dinner: 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Mon.-Sat. Lunch: 12:00 Noon – 3:00 PM, Mon.-Fri.