Owner/Chef Matteo Boglione, from Florence, is the real deal: a passionate chef turning out amazing northern Italian food — refined and beautifully presented small plates – at ridiculously reasonable prices (very few items are more than $15). My advice? Run down to Tribeca and enjoy his out-of-this-world Tasting Menu before prices rise and/or the place gets so crowded you can’t get a reservation. And don’t overlook mixologist Chistina Bini’s wild cocktails (from Martinis with smoked salmonm cheese to – yes, four drinks with edible insects). Her crazily inventive and thoroughly delicious concoctions have made her quite famous.
This husband-and-wife team, forced to fold their original creation, Il Matto, despite rave reviews, have reopened in the same location but with a revamped, more comfortable décor and less expensive menu. Today, White and Church, is the perfect place to meet for a drink after work, or to treat yourself and friends to something truly special without breaking the bank. Although the atmosphere is casual, the food and service are serious and professional.
With Fellini’s black-and-white masterpiece, Amarcord, playing silently on a large screen in the back of the restaurant, five of us placed ourselves in the hands of Matteo and Christina who created a small-plate feast from their Tasting Menu and a series of unusual drinks to accompany them.
The food menu is divided into Fried, Cold, Hot and Sweet. From the Fried section, we began with breaded and fried Green Olives stuffed with a delicious mix of veal, pork and pistachio mortadella ($8.00 for a plate). It’s an ideal munchie with any cocktail – but was wonderously perfect with Christina’s visually-dramatic Via de Neri Martini (gin, sweet vermouth, cucumber and pink peppercorns).
I should add that until I stepped into White and Church, I was a martini purist but Christina changed my mind and opened my palate to new possibilities. Many new possibilities, including her so-called “Breakfast Martini,” with grey goose vodka, pear, black pepper and pecorino cheese. She offers eight variations on the martini theme. Her fascinating list of over 60 cocktails is divided into Innovative ($14) and Classic ($12).There is also an excellent assortment of red and white Italian wines.
Next came a sensational, creamy Pecorino Cheese Crème Brulee, with caramelized red onion marmalade and a balsamic reduction ($10), followed by Fried Gorgonzola, with martini-infused Poached Pears and Arugula salad ($8). The fried ball of gorgonzola exploded deliciously in my mouth and paired beautifully with the tartness of the salad and pear. These two items were among my favorites. Not to be missed!
Mini meatballs of pork, veal and pistachio mortadella in a light tomato sauce($10) are, I suspect, the chef’s attempt to satisfy Italian traditionalists, but easily skipped. However, another winner is his Artichoke Croquettes with saffron sauce, a soft ball of Burrata cheese and miniscule truffle shavings ($11).
In the pasta realm, the chef’s béchamel and beef ragu version of Lasagna, Lasagnetta di Crespelle ($15), layered with crepes instead of lasagna, is out of this world. Light and airy, it fairly melts in your mouth and is among the best I’ve ever tasted. His Carbonara Pasta Two Ways ($15) is an interesting idea but, frankly, we all preferred his pasta one way. The smoked-bacon spaghetti is the winner. We could have skipped both the contemporary ravioli and the Burrata Cheese Ravioli with black truffle sauce ($16).
Surprisingly, as good as the preceding dishes were, the Tuna Filet with eggplant cream, fried artichokes, black olives and basil oil ($15) was the piece de resistance. The tuna was perfectly cooked and the combination of salty and sweet, absolutely delectable. Christina paired it with what she calls Buffalo 66, a well-seasoned Bloody Mary infused with gin, and beet juice instead of tomato juice, topped with a leaf of red radicchio. I absolutely loved it and I can’t wait to try it out with their Sunday Brunch.
Finally, the chef’s version of a Flourless Chocolate Cake ($7) is amazing – oozing chocolate — and a bargain to boot. By the end of our feast, we were all in awe of Matteo’s talent and groaning with pleasure.
If you want to do a Tasting Menu, ask for Matteo and, depending on what you choose, it will run between $40 and $60. Of course, you can always go a la carte the first time, to sample the items that particularly please your tastes and mood. There is much on the menu I’m looking forward to trying on a follow-up visit, such as the Fritto Misto and Octopus foie gras.
For a romantic date or just a private get-together, there are two elevated lounges on either side of the front of the restaurant, where you can drink, chat and munch apart from the crowd. Or you can opt for a drink or meal at the inviting 15-foot bar. A larger crowd will enjoy the main dining room with its 16’ ceilings and soft lighting.
As I said at the outset, run don’t walk. You and your friends will thank me.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
White and Church Restaurant
281 Church Street (at White Street)
Dinner, Lunch and Sunday Brunch