Stuzzichini are the Southern Italian equivalent of antipasti (the word comes from stuzzichare, meaning “to pick”), a series of small dishes served, usually, at the bar. This means candy-size rolls of eggplant stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese, gold-brown arancini (rice balls) as big as plums, and artichokes, frizzled in the Roman Jewish style and served on sheets of butcher paper with wedges of lemon. The meatballs aren’t the usual giant cannonballs; they’re bite-size, with a crisp exterior, and the codfish stuzzichini come stacked in little strips, each one fried, like zeppole, in a balloon-thin batter crust.
The chef at Bar Stuzzichini is Paul Di Bari (formerly of the Austrian restaurant Wallsé), and he imbues many of the dishes on his sparely edited menu with a light, gourmet touch. There are only five pastas available, but at least three of these (the handmade gnocchi Amatriciana folded in a ragù made with guanciale and onions, the chewy tagliolini alla limone with crunchy bits of pistachio, and the orecchiette mixed with spring peas, sweet onions, and cream) are themselves worth the trip. Order them with the weirdly delicious Scamorza alla brace—smoked mozzarella melted into a crunchy pancake and scattered with olive oil infused with chile pepper.
This vast Italian bistro jibes for movie-set style glamour and gains glitz from circular chandeliers with bright "dressing-room" bulbs. Oenophiles sidle up to the long, wooden bar for quartinos while snackers feasting on the fly settle in along the marble-topped dining bar. Lingerers take refuge on red banquettes in the mahogany-paneled dining room.
Stuzzichini are small Southern Italian dishes, and the cast of namesake nibbles falls into five categories: fried, vegetables, cheese, fish and cured meats. Stars within the assortments include super-tender, charred octopus with crisp celery slivers; tiny, salty fried meatballs; cheesy rice balls; and creamy, fresh-made mozzarella. Entrees deserve equal billing, especially tagliolini in a lovely pistachio and lemon sauce, pillowy gnocchi in a layered, citrusy and spicy amatriciana sauce, and fork-friendly short rib braciole, rolled around garlic, parsley and cheese and drenched in an intense tomato ragu. A moist olive oil cake with fresh whipped cream grants an appropriately dramatic ending.
The Italian wine list is impressive (70+), eclectic and well priced. As a bonus, it features many wines poured by the quartino, that friend of cheapskate oenophiles everywhere.