Cacío e Pepe
As the elder statesman of Chef Savatore Corea's Roman triumvirate (Spiga, on the Upper West Side, is the younger; Bocca near the Flatiron the youngest), Cacío e Pepe has been a hit ever since it opened on lower Second Avenue in the summer of 2004.... which, as Debbie and I found out late last Friday night, is not at all surprising, given its warm, romantic atmosphere and full slate of interesting, under-$20 pastas.
We started the "creative Italian" proceedings with a creamy, room-temperature (not the menu-promised warm, alas) log of Ricotta di Pecora, encrusted in almonds and served with several superb spirals of crispy, salty pancetta, as well as a pile of juicy pear sticks, all lightly doused in balsamic. I was pretty much starving to death when this arrived at our table, and so really appreciated both the rich flavors and the hefty portion.
Next up was the pasta. Debbie went for the namesake Tonnarelli which sounded fantastic (homemade thick spaghetti liberally tossed with cream, romano cacío, and black pepe); looked amazing as it was spun around tableside in a giant cheesewheel bowl... but unfortunately was SO filled with barely-cracked peppercorns that neither one us—pepper lovers both—could enjoy the actual eating part of the dish. I mean, we're talking five or six tooth-shattering pepperbombs in each bite!
I had better luck with my Maltagliati, a generous bowl of wide, molto-fungal noodles served with tender little clams and wonderfully oily porcini. Definitely hit the spot on that cold, cold night.
Dessert was mostly a disappointment (as I've also experienced at Spiga), my Semifreddo di Amaretti tasting like a Good Humor Toasted Almond (which I like OK... but not for $9); the accompanying drizzles of strawberry sauce tasting like very little. So even though this was by no means a perfect meal, the bright spots were bright enough, the atmosphere convivial and welcoming enough, that I would definitely return to try a few other plates.
Cacío e Pepe is located on Second Avenue between 12th and 11th Streets. We had to wait maybe 20 minutes for a table at around 9:45 on a Friday night, but there was a large party of a dozen or so revelers hogging one whole side of the place, so I'm not sure what the usual walk-up wait time would be.