With the arrival of over 100,000 migrants – adults and children – in New York City during the past few months, Mayor Eric Adams has been desperate to find housing for the influx and has resorted to partnering with several Manhattan hotels to provide temporary accommodations.
One of those hotels is a 260-room boutique property called THE REDBURY. It abruptly closed to guests on August 4th and became a shelter for asylum seekers. The rooms filled immediately and cots were set up in the public spaces.
One of the casualties of this sudden change was the closing of two of New York City’s most cherished neighborhood restaurants, MARTA and MAIALINO, both housed in the hotel. They were owned by celebrated restaurateur Danny Meyer, creator of UNION SQUARE CAFÉ and GRAMERCY PARK TAVERN. Meyer is well known and admired for his dedication to his employees. He states in his book, Setting the Table, “I can’t expect my employees to care about anyone unless they feel cared for.” Regrettably, 120 of them are now on the street.
But Meyer is not bitter. He respects the REDBURY’S decision to house migrants and is looking to relocate employees to his other restaurants.
In the meantime, HUDSON YARDS, the huge 28-acre mixed-use project in Chelsea on the west side, has also struggled. The largest private real estate development in U.S. history, it debuted in 2019 – just before COVID hit. It had a rocky start and many of its businesses did not survive the pandemic. Multiple marquee restaurants closed. Even world-famous chef Thomas Keller had to fold his tent at TAK, the premier fine-dining restaurant that anchored the entire Hudson Yards enterprise. He was forced to close his very good and very Frenchie BOUCHON BAKERY as well.
But a door always opens. Enter Danny Meyer last year to Hudson Yards with CI SIAMO, Italian for “Here we are.”
You enter on the ground floor into a modest but tasteful vestibule with a daunting 24-step staircase up to the second-floor restaurant. NO WAY. I’M TAKING THE ELEVATOR.
The doors opened, much to my surprise, to a small table with 2 bottles of complimentary Chianti and a half-dozen little wine glasses alongside. Nice touch for the ride up to the second floor.
The next thing you see is a handsome, well-appointed, and crowded bar & lounge. The greeting by the hostess could not have been more welcoming. And as she walked us to our table, the narrow bar space opened to an effortlessly likeable dining room that was at once cutting-edge, yet warmly familiar.
Now, we were a table of five, seated at TABLE #23 in the corner. Make a note of it, because it offers a picture-postcard view of Manhattan and the Empire State Building. If you go, and if you are a group of 5 or 6……try to snag #23. Do it.
And that was just the beginning of a succession of “wow” moments that evening.
Chef Hillary Sterling helms the kitchen, the centerpiece of which is a state-of-the-art wood-burning, open-fire oven and grill.
So please, begin your meal with Ci Siamo’s wood-oven baked Caramelized Cipollini Onion Torta – rich with melty, creamy onions and gooey cheese packed inside a delicate crumbly pie crust laced with a balsamic vinegar reduction and two kinds of Pecorino cheese, Romana and Toscana. If there are more than two of you, order two of ‘em.
In addition, start with a loaf of Cast-Iron Focaccia, also baked in the wood-fired oven. Accompany the olive oil-brushed, dimpled bread with a plate of Mortadella con Pistacchio, a classic Italian combination.
We sampled a lot of antipasti, including…
Gnocco Fritto. Looking like oversized ravioli that have been deep-fried, each is stuffed with a tangy, melted goat gouda cheese. And just like the focaccia, they pair nicely with the pistachio mortadella….$14.
Most of the starters are meant for sharing, and that’s exactly what we did with the Pizza Bianca that Chef Sterling picked up in Piemonte, Italy. The crust is par-baked in the wood oven and then slathered with garlic aioli and salsa verde before being topped with big and salty Spanish anchovies. Don’t wince at the anchovies, Minnesota. Their saltiness is a perfect foil to the aioli.
Next came Fritto Misto, a crispy mix of deep-fried squid, morsels of cod, scallops, pepperoncini and assorted summer vegetables. This was followed by a platter of crunchy fried oysters.
Extra virgin olive oil-basted roasted red and yellow peppers, blistered from the blazing wood grill, made a perfect little “sandwich” filler with the mortadella (if there was any left) masquerading as bread.
Little-Neck Clams in briny, buttery, garlic-laden wine broth, served with toasty garlic bread, rounded out our heinous gluttony on appetizers.
We tramped on to the assault. Salad was next.
Castelfranco, a bold, crisp Italian pink lettuce salad with toasted walnuts and goat cheese was smothered with delicious micro-planed Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. We ordered two for the table at $17 each.
Chef Sterling exalts “the power of simplicity” and nowhere is her beautiful, seasonal, Italian-inspired cooking more evident than in Ci Siamo’s array of skillfully homemade bountiful bowls of pastas, each absolutely PACKED with flavor.
First…Tagliatelle in tomato sauce with HEAPS of intensely flavored buffalo butter (a cousin to buffalo mozzarella and burrata). This ran $24. Marcella Hazan wouldn’t hesitate to tell you, “It’s worth it.”
Next: Stracci, a Sicilian classic involving rabbit, Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheeses, Arneis white wine, and pliant folds of pappardelle pasta. This is what I had, and I loved it! The slight gaminess of the rabbit was nicely tempered by the cheese and white wine ($29). It’s one of Ci Siamo’s signature dishes. The only thing that puzzled me is that it’s a Sicilian dish with Northern Italian ingredients….Gorgonzola from north of Milan, Parmesan from Parma, and wine from Piemonte. Go figure.
Joanne had the orate (another name for Sea Bream) from the Mediterranean ($33). Another member of our group really enjoyed the Salmoriglio — smoked Sicilian swordfish served with a sauce of lemon, olive oil, oregano, garlic and chopped parsley.
A grass-fed grilled ribeye, hot off the open-wood fire, was good (as good as grass-fed beef can be). It ran $43. A roasted half chicken with spring onions and schmaltz (rendered chicken or goose fat) looked good ($36), as did the Pork Milanese, tricked up a bit with caraway seeds and bagna cauda aioli (bagna cauda is a classic northern Italian dipping sauce made with anchovies, garlic olive oil, butter and cream).
But here’s what stole the show: the 48-ounce BISTECCA FIORENTINA for two (or three). Chef Sterling covers the 3 lb. behemoth in sea salt and lets it rest for an hour or two to deplete some of the moisture. After brushing off the salt (now here’s the trick), she sets the steak in a pan 3 inches deep in melted clarified butter on the range at a very low temperature for about an hour before slapping it on the white-hot fire and grilling it to medium-rare with a nicely charred crust.
I know a thing or two about Bistecca Fiorentina. But I’ve never heard of lightly poaching it in butter.
Pair that up with a generous side dish of wild mushrooms sauteed in butter and rosemary, and well…that’s all I can say.
And what about dessert for the now-satisfied pigs at the table? OF COURSE.
Bombolini (Italian sugar coated “donuts” with chocolate dipping sauce)? Absolutely. $15.
Lemon Tart – light and softly lemony ($15).
Hazelnut Gelato, seething with toasted-hazelnut gusto, was a hit as well – and it sported a gentle price ($10).
Not so gently priced – at three times the cost of the gelato – was the Chocolate Budino, a concoction that resides somewhere between a cake and a mousse. Deep chocolate, espresso zabaglione, toasted chocolate almonds and shards of wafer-thin dark chocolate rendered it velvety and moist.
At $30 bucks, was it worth it?
All I can say is, “THAT WAS A VERY NICE WAY TO END A VERY NICE MEAL.”