By David Minsky
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By Bill Wisser
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By Bill Wisser
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Frisch also discovered that people are crazy about lasagna. Freshly made, that is, not the typical restaurant rendition, which is baked, portioned, wrapped in flimsy plastic, refrigerated, and microwaved to order for the next week(s). Unless you synchronize your arrival with the removal of a lasagna from the oven, you're likely to land an arid square of rubbery noodles, more often than not oversauced in a vain attempt at moistening. Bugatti avoids this predicament by offering the dish only on the first Wednesday of each month. Crowds descend on the moderate-size eatery for this special day, so come early or be prepared to wait for a table trust me, it's worth it. The lasagna reminded me of those I've eaten in Bologna, Italy (and that's no baloney): a delicate layering of fresh, chewy noodles with sumptuously mild minced beef and veal and a smooth, white, Parmesan-pumped Béchamel sauce. There is no greasy sausage, no heavy-handed red sauce, and no towering mound of gloppy cheese.
Bugatti's pastas feature obligatory favorites, dressed in everything from carbonara to clam sauce and finessed with crowd-pleasing panache. The plates are artlessly artful meaning their aesthetic beauty lies in the quality of ingredients, preparation, and the taste. Not that the comestibles aren't comely tagliolini carbonara is as pretty as a picture: thin, fresh strings of homemade egg noodles festively colored with an outer ring of punchy pimiento sauce and a bull's-eye of reduced cream. Although this isn't a traditional version (which customarily includes egg in the sauce and forgoes red peppers), the pimientos perked up the dish with a welcome sweetness. Flecks of pancetta and a tableside dusting of Parmesan mark the final touches to this minor masterpiece of homespun flavor.
Spaghetti al cartoccio cooked pasta wrapped in parchment paper and baked with clams, tomatoes, parsley, lots of garlic, and white wine showcases further strokes of ingenuity. The cartoccio method (the French call it en papillote) seals in moisture, taste, and heat; our bag of noodles arrived at the table emitting enough aromatic puffs of steam to make a locomotive envious.
The quirkiest menu item is ravioli Bombay, chicken-filled pillows in a modestly spicy curry sauce sweetened with raisins, apples, roasted almonds, and whipped cream. The first bites are best, after which the richness of the curried cream grows tedious. I guess it'll do the trick for those who, deep down, don't like Italian food.
Turkey-vegetable loaf likewise will appeal to those who find themselves in an Italian restaurant against their will. Meat loaf might not seem like a radical notion, but for the first two decades pasta was the only entrée parceled here (this is, after all, Bugatti: The Art of Pasta). That changed a few months ago, with the simultaneous unveiling of the restaurant's interior makeover and new menu. The renovated space is warm and simple. Still-life fruit paintings hang on pale taupe walls between wooden columns, cocoa-colored banquettes line each side of the room, and a bevy of booths occupies the center space. The low ceiling boasts big, white wooden slats like a Brobdingnagian window shutter.
Other nonnoodle main courses encompass overworked standards such as scaloppine di pollo saltimbocca, a chunky chicken breast wrapped in crisp prosciutto di parma, augmented with a sage marsala sauce, and sided by a glowing, saffron-soaked risotto. Bugatti also aims to please via a filet mignon, a roasted half-chicken with rosemary lemon butter, and a trio of seafood dishes, the most intriguing of which is a sliced fillet of rare tuna served with lima beans in a rosemary and veal demi-glace. We snared a similar fish/veal combo, salmone rustica, from a selection of weekly dinner specials. The pristine, juicily roasted, coral pink fillet of Scottish salmon practically melted on a bed of cabbage, pancetta, and a shiny veal reduction sauce reminiscent of a great meal you'd likely encounter in an Alsatian bistro. Keep the gutsy Germanic vibe going with a cold pint of yeasty Hefeweizen, one of four wheat beers made by Weihenstephaner, a brewery established in 1040 and billed as the oldest in the world. Those who insist on vino can turn to a predominantly Italian wine list that is modestly priced, with numerous bottles less than $30.
A lean, clean rendition of vitello tonnato brought a chilled carpaccio of cooked veal tenderloin capped by a creamy, caper-studded sauce made from a purée of tuna, anchovies, and the meat's natural juices. Most of the other appetizers are also served cold: carpaccios of beef or salmon; prosciutto with melon; assorted Italian cold cuts; and an Italian cheese and fruit plate for two, offered for dessert as well, featuring aged Reggiano, Tuscan Pecorino, Bel Paese, Gorgonzola, and fontina.
One warm, winning appetizer was composed of four plush, garlic-baked shrimp plated with cannellini beans, arugula, and a balsamic sauce tinged with fresh thyme. Pizza provides another hot way to begin, as in a basic margherita pie with a crisp yet pliant crust, tangy tomato sauce enlivened by oregano and fresh basil, and bubbly mozzarella di bufala.
Desserts were a letdown. All are prepared in-house, but the ricotta cheesecake and chocolate torte layered with chocolate mousse were stiff and cold from refrigeration, the latter tasting so old I envisioned it being baked off-premises and delivered by FEMA.
Bugatti's waiters are the opposite of clumsy government agencies (albeit understaffed during busy lunch and dinner rushes); a hustling and hospitable crew managed to ably fulfill the needs of its clientele. Many of the customers appeared to be long-time regulars well acquainted with the veteran employees and on a first-name basis with Carlos and Franco, the personable managers. Service here is superior to some I've experienced in far pricier venues, and the food, too, exceeds the expectations of a neighborhood Italian joint. Bugatti's aim to give us something we'll like is flawlessly fulfilled. This, in a pasta shell, encompasses the art of running a successful restaurant for more than twenty years.