Big Eyes, Little Plates
Cherry picking at Piattini
Remember how we grew all tingly with dread when we saw the limp produce and the handwritten signage—just knowing that this latest mom-and-pop effort, successor to the Grocery Emporium, was not long for this world?
One of the best things about Piattini is that it’s rigged for sharing. The concept revolves around small plates, with the menu divided into categories such as “Farm,” “Garden,” “Sea,” “Flour and Water” and “Stone.”
As much as I lament the loss of whatever-that-thing-was-that-I-used-to-get-for-lunch (to be fair, that was around the time of my pregnancy, when I couldn’t remember anything, ever), and as much as I hate the mass extinction of the corner grocery store, the food now coming out of 1403 Girard NE, presently occupied by twinkly Piattini, is not as susceptible to instant amnesia.
I can lucidly remember the watermelon/tomato salad I had there last week. I can effortlessly summon up misty watercolor memories of the tiramisu bundt cake. If I close my eyes and do a little pantomime, I can recall the salty tide pool lusciousness of the crab cakes and the drenched deep-sea tomato and wine flavor of the pescatore.
Piattini, Italian for “small plates,” opened in March, showcasing the skill sets of both its owners—restaurateur Pete Lukes (formerly of Terra Bistro) and interior designer Maggie Lukes. The décor is a kind of luxe, contemporary botanical in spring greens and stone. Small plates and gauzy paintings of flowers adorn the walls. By day the lighting is pleasantly au natural, but by evening it grows a little cold. Included in the seating scheme are a bar and sofa benches with velour throw pillows that lend an extra decadent effect to your ingestion of pasta and crab cakes, and make it slightly tempting to just slump down and take a nap after Sunday lunch (they no longer offer a brunch menu, fyi).
But I don’t eat rocks, nor papier-mâché glue.
I shall translate. Flour and water=pasta. Stone=pizza. Small plates=smallish plates. Large plates=a long, slow jog.
All told, it’s a foodie-pleasing, frenzy-inducing little menu that goes beyond Italian-American standards.
So, where to begin. Well, no great harm will befall you if you order the carpaccio ($11), thin sheets of raw beef tenderloin, dressed with arugula, lemon, olive oil, corpulent caper berries (not to be confused with the more common, wee caper bud) and a cheese crouton. My friend likes carpaccio because it “gives you the impression that you’re eating meat without overdoing it.” This is a very nice, fresh plate that will satisfy both your salt tooth and meat tooth.
The granchio, griddled crab and corn cakes (with puttanesca sauce and caper mayo, $14) is pretty much the ne plus ultra for maritime succulence, spice and brine. It’s almost too dark and salty, actually. The corn lacked the sweetness to offset the olive and chili-flake-laced puttanesca sauce and the savory mayo. But you can balance this unbalanced dish yourself by ordering the fresh, sweet melone salad (thick steaks of watermelon and heirloom tomatoes, basil, shallot dressing, parmesan shavings, $10), so you don’t feel as if your tongue is sinking to the bottom of the sea.
The funghi and tartufo ($11) pizza, stacked with crimini mushrooms, charred green onion, gruyere and truffle oil was good, but also needs balancing with all of those earthy toppings. (Again, you can self-solve this problem by ordering something light to go with it.) The pizza here, by the way, is a medium-thick crust, rather than Neapolitan style.
The linguini pomodoro, one of the simplest dishes on the menu (linguini tossed with fresh basil, ripe tomatoes and just the right soaking of olive oil), came very close. I brought a friend who spent a couple of years in Italy, where she ate pasta pretty much every day like clockwork. If she is happy—and she was—that’s saying something. Her only criticism was that it didn’t quite hit the al dente mark.
And then there’s the pescatore ($24), one of those boozy fishing village soups clattering with clam and mussel shells, prawns and scallops. The marinara broth of red wine, red pepper flakes and sweet cherry tomatoes is, again, damn near perfect but for the bland, pluggish gnocchi.
Finally the tiramisu: Tiramisu (“pick-me-up” in Italian) is both a favorite plea of tiny Italian children and a favorite adult dessert. In their tiramisu bundt ($8), Piattini swaps out the usual ladyfingers for a dense mascarpone-larded bundt cake on a puff of espresso cream (the picker-upper) dusted with cocoa powder. Not a bad way to finish, assuming your friends are pulling their weight and eating their share.
The more friends, the more plates, the merrier. Forget your woes, the death of corner stores, the ghosts of wilted produce and canned soups. Life goes on, you know, and there’s a bundt cake with your name on it.
1403 Girard NE
Hours: Monday 5-9pm, Tuesday-Thursday 11am-9pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 11am-9pm
Price Range: $9-$28
Vibe: Boutique hotel lounge
Extras: Kids’ menu, wine by the half bottle
Vegetarian and GF options: Yes
The Weekly Alibi Recommends: Pescatore, granchio, linguini pomodoro, truffle fries, tiramisu bundt.