Gennaro, a casual Italian place on Amsterdam and 94th Street, has now been open for at least 10 years, but, discouraged by the seemingly contradictory forces of big crowds causing long waits and UWS dining skepticism, I had never been until Friday night, when my mom took Bo, Co and I for a light (ha!) summer supper. Turns out my avoidance instincts weren't totally misguided—the pasta here is pretty second-rate—but I was amazed by how good some of the other dishes were.
We arrived at around 6:15 and were seated right away, but every table was full by 7:00, and mostly, it seemed, with regulars. A good sign. An even better sign: our antipasti was excellent, highlighted by a special of Watermelon with Goat Cheese, sitting in—and soaking up—a pool of peppery olive oil. The soft saltiness of the cheese combined with the sweet, refreshing crunch of the melon all infused with the oil... it had balance, flavor, and style. Also very nicely done was the Insalata di Polipo, served warm, the grilled octopus well charred and tender, the potatoes perfectly seasoned with sea salt, the lemon vinaigrette pulling it all together. Bo and Co (and I ) devoured this. We saw it on quite a few other tables as well, so clearly this is something of a signature dish here, and rightly so.
The mains were less successful, mostly because everyone except me ordered pasta. Co's Orecchiette con Broccoli e Provolone was certainly flavorful enough, but the texture—thick and gummy—made for a bit of a slog. Bo polished off her generous plate of Gnocchi in a tomato cream sauce, but I thought it both heavy and bland. Mom did OK with her Ravioli special, stuffed with spicy veal and swimming in a thick, creamy sauce, but it didn't really rise above the ordinary. I went a different route, the Suckling Pig special, and was rewarded with large hunks of savory swine. This was a simple dish, well handled: juicy meat, sweet fat, crackling skin. Maybe some tart sauerkraut would have been a better accompaniment than the garlicky rabe I received, but no matter. I was happy.
Dessert was a disaster, an Almond Semifreddo coated with chocolate sauce that looked fabulous and was attacked before I could even take a picture but turned out to be 1) totally tasteless (even the chocolate!) and 2) frozen solid. "Yes, that's how it's supposed to be," said our waiter. I could barely cut it with a knife.
Gennaro is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 95th and 94th Streets. Everything on the menu is well under $20, with the pastas topping off at $12. They don't take reservations, and the kitchen is slow, so the wait is probably longer than it needs to be. Also: it's cash only, which we didn't see mentioned anywhere prior to having our card rejected—no sign, no menu footer—so I had to run to Broadway for an ATM. Which, after all that pig, was maybe not such a bad idea.