When we were in New York at the end of June, Holley Grainger and I had the most amazing meal at Felidia with our friends Marge Perry and David Bonom, both recipe developers and food writers, and even better, friends of the head chef. Because Marge is such a great food writer, and because I was too overwhelmed by this incredible meal, I asked her to assist me with the post. Thanks, Marge!
There’s a reason Lidia Bastianich’s acclaimed restaurant, Felidia, continues to thrill some of the world’s toughest food critics—as well as the foodies who flock there—more than 40 years after it opened. As much as we love Lidia (and all her cookbooks and television shows, she is not the reason: it is Felidia’s talented Executive Chef, Fortunato Nicotra who makes our toes curl in delight with every bite.
It doesn’t hurt that Chef Nicotra is the quintessential Italian male, complete with a charming smile and enchanting accent. But really, it was his food—dish after artfully conceived dish, with nary a misstep—that truly won our hearts. As each plate was brought to the table, we couldn’t help but ooh and ah. Surely in a previous life, we decided, Chef Nicotra was a painter. But back to this life: as a chef, the plates he creates are neither contrived nor overwrought. Thank goodness, because who wants to eat food too pretty to touch? No, Nicotra’s food is, first and foremost, inviting and accessible. You don’t just want to look at it– you want to eat it.
And eat we did! Nicotra, a Sicilian, earned his first Michelin star while cooking in a coastal village, and his predilection for seafood delighted us. But whether he is preparing seafood, meat, vegetable or grains, what makes every dish memorable is his ability to balance and harmonize without getting fussy or losing sight of the ingredient itself as the true star. We would follow this man to the ends of the earth to eat his food. Lucky us: all we have to do is go to New York City! And, while artistry like this doesn’t come cheap, it is worth noting that relatively speaking, Felidia’s is truly not as outrageously priced as many restaurants here.
Menu highlights: Octopus Mosaic, Cacio e Pere: Pear and pecorino stuffed ravioli,“Crudo” platter of seared blue fin tuna, branzino, lobster and white salmon, red Quinoa risotto with summer vegetables, razor clams with pasta, peach mascarpone tiramisu, fried zucchini blossoms, roasted angus flat iron beef paired with hangar steak tagli,and corn-crusted ricotta cheese crostata with blueberry sorbet.
So, take it from me, Holley, Marge, and David: if you are yearning for a fine dining experience, go to New York City and eat at Felidia. And say hello to Fortunato for me.