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Little Italy and Nolita

Balaboosta

photo by Liz Barclay

Mulberry Street was once a Little Italy stronghold, but Soho has swallowed all but a couple of blocks of that now-touristy enclave, and new restaurants from other parts of the globe have usurped territory. One of those celebrates a different — and less ubiquitous, at least in New York — Mediterranean region: Balaboosta pays homage to husband-and-wife owners Stefan Nafziger and Einat Admony’s native Israel, building on the success of their tiny West Village falafel shop, Taïm. Admony maintains a bright menu of staples — fried olives with labne and harissa oil, crispy cauliflower with pine nuts and currants — as well as a daily list of specials, noted on a chalkboard and worth perusing for treats like lamb loin braised until it submits, quivering, to the touch of a fork. Her food is soulful: This is a dinner you want to eat with a celebratory red wine (which you can do without breaking the bank). Balaboosta is Yiddish for “the perfect housewife,” and the restaurant is so named for its aspiration to do it all and do it well. That spirit is perhaps most evident at Passover, when Admony collaborates with fellow chefs to prepare a Seder, connecting more deeply with a neighborhood that has already embraced its non-Italian neighbor.

Banh Mi Saigon

photo by Robert Menzer

This hybrid deli and atelier (a-deli-ier?) on a populated stretch of Grand Street began life 25 years ago as a sandwich stall under the Manhattan Bridge, eventually partnering with a jewelry shop on Mott Street, where it stayed until 2010. The current location of Banh Mi Saigon — emblazoned with the shop’s name and still selling jewelry — serves some of the best banh mi sandwiches in the city. The baguette is baked in-house and eats best at lunchtime, when it retains ample chew. Carnivores score big with candied pebbles of roast pork, rich chicken-liver pâté, and gelatinous slices of Vietnamese pork roll, a type of forcemeat similar in taste and texture to bologna. The colossal demi-loaves are filled to bursting, reined in by a thin wrapping of deli paper. Ordering your sandwich “spicy” invites a fiery mosh pit of sliced jalapeños to the party; look to the refrigerated display cases for relief in the form of refreshing summer rolls, Vietnamese iced coffees and teas, and a selection of baked and liquid sweets, our favorite being the grass jelly-filled rainbow ice with coconut milk. Even sweeter? That righteous toe ring you picked up during lunch, you rascal.

Public

photo by Dominic Perri

If someone led you blindfolded into a restaurant outfitted with accoutrements appropriated from libraries, post offices, schools, you might expect it to front a kitchen that aspires to the lowest common denominator. Now open your eyes: Every atom of this sleek, stylish Nolita space — created by AvroKO, the design firm and restaurant group responsible for a number of posh downtown joints — is calculated for maximum impact. The visual play provides a clue to the exotic, polyglot palette chef Brad Farmerie sends forth from his kitchen. “Seasonal” and “local” aren’t descriptors you’ll likely see on Public’s menu, though surely Tasmanian sea trout and New Zealand venison are in season, and locally procured, somewhere. No matter. The flavors are audacious, the combinations unpredictable, the presentations artful and occasionally ingenious, much like the wine list, which celebrates the New World and the Antipodes in particular, and trafficks in selections from diverse and far-flung Old World regions like Greece, Lebanon, and Hungary. The ambiance is surprisingly casual, the servers are engaging, yet the overall effect is one of elegance and perfectionism. When you’re of a mind to go big or go home — that’s when you go Public.

Rubirosa

photo Courtesy Rubirosa

AJ Pappalardo grew up in a pizzeria: His father, Giuseppe Pappalardo, was the Joe in Joe & Pat’s, the beloved Staten Island pie shop that opened in 1960 after Joe and Pat emigrated from Naples. In 2010, the younger Pappalardo opened his own place with help from the elder, and he tapped another Italian-American Staten Islander, Al DiMeglio, to helm the kitchen, though there’s plenty of family oversight: Many dishes at Rubirosa come from AJ’s mother Lena’s personal recipes. While seasonal specials rotate frequently, much of the menu remains steadfast. We’re smitten with the classic pizza, a crisp, thin-crust iteration with tangy red sauce and dollops of dry mozzarella that’s a throwback to Joe & Pat’s standard pie. The pastas, all made in-house, are not to be missed; we like the cavatelli with broccoli rabe and sausage, ditto the spaghetti chitarra with red sauce and Parmesan. A wine list assembled by general manager Bari Musacchio features mostly Italian bottles, several from Arianna Occhipinti, wines Musacchio praises as a perfect fit for the restaurant’s concept and philosophy: welcoming and nuanced, approachable yet challenging, but, most important, fun and delicious.

Torrisi Italian Specialties

photo by Adam Goldberg

Torrisi Italian Specialties, which began life in 2010 as a sandwich shop and restaurant serving $45 four-course meals cooked by two Café Boulud and Del Posto vets, has spawned an empire of three restaurants and three sandwich shops, including splashy retro orgy Carbone and haute crudo destination ZZ’s Clam Bar. Chef Mario Carbone now mostly presides over his namesake, while the flagship location of Torrisi on Mulberry Street is very much Rich Torrisi’s domain. Having tinkered with courses, added a more substantial dessert program, and moved the sandwich operation next door to Parm, Torrisi now serves a nine-course menu of Italian-American — inspired small plates for $100. The chef’s warm, fresh mozzarella is the curd heard ’round NYC, and for good reason: The pliant, stretchy mound pulls like taffy, with a concentrated richness. The kitchen freezes bushels of summer corn during peak season to use throughout the year for the polenta that accompanies tender Wagyu short rib. It’s detail-oriented touches like these — along with the charming, Lilliputian dining room — that help solidify this restaurant’s reputation for a uniquely progressive approach to Italian-American dining.