Let's get the non-food issues out the way primi...
Gemma is the spanking-new, still in preview-menu mode, wannabe (and suretobe) hotspot of the moment, located on the street level of the Bowery Hotel, run by Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson, who also gave us The Maritime Hotel, The Park, and The Waverly Inn, among others.
The restaurant is indeed as handsome as you may have heard, with tables spread out through two rooms and on two levels, plus a bar area and window/sidewalk seating. The decor is molto rustico and warm and witty, especially the high shelf that meanders along the entire room and is loaded with drippy candles and urns and frowny portraits of long-dead Italians and all sorts of barocco touches. Plus: huge iron chandeliers, copper cookware dangling everywhere, old massive mirrors. It feels good to sit here on a warm summer's evening; it's going to feel really lovely come winter.
Ah, but can you even get in? I showed up at around 6:45 on Saturday evening, table for one, please, Eric himself, I believe, working the door. He tried to seat me at the bar; I asked, please, for that empty table right by the window; he said that was reserved for a hotel guest; I promised him I wouldn't take long; he relented. Thank you, Mr. Goode. During the course of my meal the room filled up, and some who arrived were seated immediately, while others were turned away for "not having reservations", which, as far as I know, are unhaveable. I couldn't figure out the system—it definitely wasn't a beauty contest—but if you really want to eat here I wouldn't arrive after 7:30 or so and expect to be seated anytime soon, if at all.
And the food? Two out of three of my dishes were excellent, a fine percentage at these relatively low prices, especially with such a new kitchen. I started with the only dud of the evening, three surprisingly flavorless Flori di Zucca, the zucchini blossoms overwhelmed by bland tempura batter, the ricotta cheese stuffing offering too little, too late. I was worried. It'd be such a backlash-cliche to hate my meal. Then came a terrific (and, for $13, extremely generous) plate of pasta, and all was well again. I ordered the Linguine, which was made with fresh squid ink, tossed with baby octopus and covered with a chunky, liberally-seasoned arrabiata sauce. The dish was briny and acidic and red-pepper-spicy and cephalopodic and truly delicious. So good, in fact, that I was tempted to order a Secondi (maybe the chicken? or the swordfish?) just to keep the meal going, but realized that would just be ridiculous.
Full or not, however, I clearly had to sample something in the Dolci department, and so opted for the Torta di Ciocolatta, a wonderful, warm, incredibly rich, crispy/chewy creation with deep cocoa flavors, topped with a scoop of sweet vanilla gelato. Amazing stuff. If you like chocolate, do not pass up the opportunity to try this dessert.
Gemma is located on the corner of Bowery and 3rd Street. If the Waverly Inn experience is any indication of how things are going to work here, the "Preview Menu" will be served for the next six months or so. And I would go soon, before everyone else comes back from the Hamptons.