Quick-shot impressions of an impromptu prix fixe at Domenicas bar last night:
The rectangular paper menu borrows John Beshs Lüke design, and does for northern Italian cooking what Lükes does for French bistro fare. A nice touch: pasta and antipasti are offered in small and full portions, typically $6 to $15, making sampling a little of everything easy and relatively affordable. We enjoyed seven plates the tomato soup, fried mini squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese, bresaola and arugula salad, spinach ricotta gnocchi with brown butter and almonds, the fazzoletti, chocolate hazelnut pudding and heavenly fig fritters with a honeyed-foam zabaione all for less than $100 with tax and tip. (Separate visits, we decided early on, would be required for pizzas and entrees.)
The dishes, by and large, were delicious. Small details like the bread service delighted: bricks of briochelike focaccia flavored with sticky caramelized onion. Surprisingly, the house-made pasta was probably the weakest part of the meal, the gnocchi slightly gummy and the fazzoletti more chewy than al dente. But it was a minor offense considering their toothsome accoutrements. The wine list offers an impressive and reasonably priced selection of Italian vintners, both by the bottle and glass. But best of all were the large, colorful glass vats perched atop the bar stock. Toward the end of our meal the youthful and affably shaggy Shaya, who at 30 resembles a New York City art student more than a Besh-kitchen wunderkind, was busy making the glad-hand rounds. He stopped and spent several minutes describing the still-steeping liqueurs, each of which contained a different floating flavoring: traditional limoncello but also peach, orange, strawberry and almond, as well as several savory offerings like rosemary, tomato (soon to be a wonderful bloody Mary base, he explained) and his favorite, a savory-sweet one called cento herba, or hundred herbs, of which he spilled out a slug for us to try. Grassy-hued and redolent of an aromatic garden, it was like an eminently more drinkable Chartreuse. Our favorite, too.