Don’t go to Fusco on business. Scott Conant’s return to New York—after making his name here with pasta at L’Impero and Scarpetta, then launching in Miami and Las Vegas—is made for dates and anniversaries, with its elegant decor and almost supernaturally flattering lighting emanating from crystal chandeliers in the snug dining room. The space is showily sophisticated—just like Conant’s food. It would be such a shame to talk business across the banquette.
The opulent feast typically begins when the first appetizer is set down: Many of the dishes arrive covered with a glass cloche that is dramatically whisked off to allow access to, say, stromboli stuffed with smoked mozzarella and salami. (Add some of the delicious garlicky broccoli rabe oil that accompanies the bread for a little more oomph.) Tuna tartare is given an Italian-Asian twist, served with a tonnato sauce that gets extra umami from a dashi base, plus pickled ramps and a strip of pressed black olives. A truffled pea Caesar doesn’t need a reveal to impress. Fresh peas in all of their stages—exquisitely sourced lacy tendrils; crisp shells; sweet, plump peas—are arranged around tiny, caviar-studded balls of creamy burrata. I could easily have a double order with a glass of Sicilian “champagne” and call it an evening. The heavily Italian wine list has some fun, unusual offerings that are worth leaving Chianti for.
Conant and his team truly excel when it comes to pasta that highlights the flavors native to his grandmother Carminella Fusco’s home in Benevento, Italy, so a meal at Fusco without it would just be silly. The pasta al pomodoro is unlike any tomato sauce you’ve had, silkened with butter and oven-concentrated tomatoes. Try it with a glass of Dr. Leopold Riesling and be surprised—the sweetness and complexity are perfectly reflected. The rich oxtail-stuffed casoncelli, a tortellini-like filled pasta, is an entrée hiding in semolina clothing, given crunch with horseradish bread crumbs and, more surprising still, crushed sunflower seeds.
I opted for splitting two pastas in lieu of a proper main course, though the seared scallops with barley-like Job’s tears, cockles, and caramelized fennel that we snuck in was elegant and just right. Next time, I’ll try the sirloin with ash spice and osso buco sauce.
Desserts hit the same successful note of sophisticated seasonality. A rhubarb-strawberry tart is actually a mini loaf cake, sweet and dense with crème fraîche ice cream and a drizzle of sticky aged balsamic. Chocolate mousse arrives in tartlet form, rich and silky rather than, well, mousse-y. Crisped with bits of house-made honeycomb, it’s a candy bar for (lucky) grown-ups.
Sure, you could meet a friend for a drink and a bowl of pasta at the bar. That’s what a younger crowd was doing when we stumbled out, smiling, at 10:30 p.m. But why not go with someone whom you want to see you in the best possible light and make a night of it?
43 East 20th Street (between Broadway and Park Avenue South), Flatiron
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