The influence of St. Louis-born Danny Meyer continues to grow. In addition to now partnering with Panera, the founder of the Union Square Hospitality Group recently opened a highly anticipated, Italian-inspired restaurant in the heart of the Big Apple at 100 Manhattan West Plaza.
Ci Siamo (pronounced chee see-AH-moh) translates as “here we are,” which means readiness, or “so it should be” (along with several other uses). Meyer has always been passionate about Italy, including its food and culture, so the concept fits exactly with his passion.
The restaurant is on the west side of Ninth Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets, in a new development called One Manhattan West. (Entrance is not visible from the ninth; a short walk west across a plaza and turn left is required – check the restaurant’s website for a helpful map.)
Inside, the room curves gracefully around a corner. Tall windows offer breathtaking views of the Empire State Building and glittering Manhattan at night. The bar has a relaxed atmosphere with low tables, plush chairs and a wood-burning pizza oven. An open kitchen is visible from much of the dining room. Fittingly, the busy atmosphere is reminiscent of a Roman trattoria.
The menu is partly made up of split-sized dishes with generous portions, including prosciutto and pizza. The pizette, half of an 8-inch square sans cheese, carries a rich tomato sauce with generous garlic bumps and a rustic crust. Gnocco fritto, which resembles a hearty fritters, is filled with whipped Gouda cheese. The roasted mushrooms, with large pieces of the namesake of the dish, show a little lemon and fresh thyme as well as a hint of garlic. Like the pizza, it’s a relatively simple dish and a reminder that the menu will satiate both the cautious eater and the adventurous. The latter could, for example, enjoy the caramelized onion torta, a seemingly round loaf of bread with a creamy onion filling and topped with browned pecorino cheese.
Salmoriglio, the southern Italian sauce that starts with lemon and olive oil, blesses a piece of lightly smoked swordfish. The Ci Siamo version adds chopped artichokes and a little Calabrian chilli to the classic sauce. There’s also a notable seared half chicken with schmaltz and sunchokes, as well as pastas including cavatelli with lobster, a stuffed pasta called topini, and several vegetarian options.
As for dessert? The return of pastry chef Claudia Fleming is big news. After making a name for herself at the Gramercy Tavern, she now serves as the Executive Pastry Director for the Union Square Hospitality Group. The breathtaking textures of the chocolate budino alone are worth the calories. The dessert is somewhere between mousse and cake, velvety and juicy. It is deeply chocolaty like a cashmere stole in an espresso zabaglione sauce. Toasted, salted almonds are the equivalent of a great piece of jewelry, and incredibly thin chocolate chips add to the ensemble. None of these desserts with pastries and ice cream and some elaborate confections, but a cohesive, carefully prepared way to end a fine meal.
The wine list is of course Italian with interesting choices by the glass. Dialog with the server when looking for something that would stand up to the swordfish was a delight. I ended up trying three flavors and found the perfect match, Pavese Blanc de Morgex de la Salle. Nice and tangy to withstand this Salmoriglio, he uses Prie Blanc grapes, which can only be found in the Italian Alps.
Ci Siamo does not take reservations at the bar (which offers a smaller menu), so a spontaneous visit after booking is still possible. The restaurant is welcoming and tasty no matter where you sit.