Since the summer of 2000, Italian eatery Gnocco has served the East Village wonderful food in a welcoming, familial atmosphere. No surprise then that the restaurant, founded by Gian Luca Giovanetti and Pier Luigi Palazzo, has enjoyed steady success since its inception, even growing in business throughout the recent recession.
When entering Gnocco, you might mistakenly feel that you have wandered into an ordinary Lower East Side pizzeria. The front area, with seating for about four, is more for diners not looking to have a full sit down meal. Continue down the narrow hall, however, and you find yourself in a romantically lit seating area, a dramatic change in atmosphere. Here diners in anticipation for the meal that is to follow, enjoying complimentary bread with olive oil and vinegar. Gnocco even has a beautiful outdoor seating area, perfect for small groups of friends.
During our visit as guests of Gnocco, General Manager Stefano Biaggioni suggested that we try one of the restaurant’s pies. We were told the pizza would be unlike any we had ever tried. We chose the tartufata pizza, after being told this selection was perhaps the most popular one on the menu. The base mixture of heavy cream, black truffle sauce and mozzarella alone would have satisfied my taste buds, but there was more. On top of the creamy base there were shreds of speck, mushrooms, and smoky prosciutto. A drizzle of truffle oil is added when the pizza comes out of the oven, guaranteeing rich flavor in every bite. And each bite is just a little bit different—one bite mushroom, one bite prosciutto, every bite buttery and delicious. The crust was incredibly thin and a hearty eater could easily demolish an entire pie single handedly, without any guilt.
The gnocco, a dish I had never heard of prior to my visit but one I was told I definitely had to try, was comprised of light and airy fried dough accompanied by an arrangement of cured meats. The pieces of gnocco were puffy and flaky, yet chewy at the same time. Served alongside the basket of gnocco were thin slices of 24-month aged prosciutto, peppery salami, and melt-in-your-mouth capicola.
For the pasta course, I ordered the tagliatelle al ragu con piselli, handmade pasta with beef and veal ragu and green peas. The sauce was hearty and well flavored with a generous portion of meat, guaranteeing considerably sized pieces in every bite.
The entrée, filetto di branzino grigliato, grilled branzino fillet with grilled shrimp, was served with grilled potatoes, string beans and a salad with lemon dressing. Though I didn’t see much of a salad on the dish, the lemon dressing was definitely present, and added a pleasant flavor to the other ingredients. The fish was nicely prepared and flaky. The dish also included tomatoes and mandarin orange slices, the sweet citrus pairing nicely with the lemon dressing and flaky fish.
To close the meal, I ordered the semifreddo al limone e menta and the torta di ricotta. The semifreddo al limone e menta, lemon and mint parfait and caramelized peaches, was refreshing and cleansed the palette. The sorbet was smooth and the crisp cookie neatly hidden underneath added a nice surprise in texture. The torta di ricotta, Italian cheesecake topped by whipped cream and berries, was an elegant presentation with a light dusting of cocoa powder for a nice touch. There was perhaps a little too much crust, but the superb flavor made up for this flaw.
Gnocco’s staff was friendly, but not overbearing, the food was fairly priced, particularly considering the high quality of the ingredients. This East Village spot is an inspired choice for a get together, a romantic meal with that special someone or a gathering with friends.
Be aware prior to your arrival that the restaurant is currently only accepting cash or American Express.