never been to Milan (or anywhere in Italy for that matter) but sitting
at a small table in Cittanuova in East Hampton, Nena and I got a
small taste of one of Italy's most chic and modern cities — along with some
terrific, affordable fare.
First, let me just mention that Cittanuova is an extremely versatile restaurant. Versatility isn't a trait that many restaurateurs shoot for, but it's on full display here. Looking for a bar with energy? Cittanuova has that. Want to eat outside? Cittanuova has two outdoor dining areas. Want to stop somewhere for coffee? Cittanuova is the perfect spot. Need an affordable spot for a date? Cittanuova offers great bang for the buck. Want to take your kids for gelato on a summer afternoon? You guessed it, they have a gelateria as well.
With this versatility comes a variety — and a lot of people — and while it's not a great spot for a quiet romantic dinner, it's bustling, lively crowd and sleek, modern interior offer a great dining experience if you're okay with a little noise. And on this night, we were.
When we arrived, we were quickly seated at a table near the bar, but not quite in the outside area. Still, we enjoyed the opportunity to people watch — one of Nena's favorite pastimes. We were also pleased to see several children around enjoying the spot and the kid's menu. This may seem a negative to some, but as new parents, we always love finding places where we can get good food, and bring the little guy with us. Here, in the energetic space, the kids fit right in and weren't a distraction at all.
The menu is large and diverse, offering many dishes you'd find on any Italian restaurant on Long Island but also delivering touches of upscale elegance and uniqueness. After considering our choices, we decided to skip the formaggi and salumi plates (two weaknesses in our lives) and other delicious-sounding antipasti and decided to share an insalata,the Insalata di Rucola.
Divvied onto two plates back in the kitchen — always a welcome touch — this salad of prosciutto, white bean, olives and fresh buffalo mozzarella with a lemon vinaigrette is a fine example of Italian cuisine. Simple ingredients expertly combined. The saltiness of the cured pork and olives played off of the sweetness of roasted red peppers. The richness of the beans was balanced by the bright, citrusy dressing. To drink, we enjoyed a quartino (a small carafe) of Gini 2006 Soave from the Veneto region of Italy. Bright and crisp, it acted much the same way the dressing did — enhancing and balancing the salad's flavors.
One cannot review an Italian restaurant without at least trying the pasta, so we both ordered a pasta course — both half portions, which is a great option. My wife ordered the Fettuccine al Triplo Burro, which is a fancy way of saying fettuccine alfredo. This splurge in the calorie department featured tender, well-cooked noodles dressed flavorfully. Somehow it seemed lithe and light despite the butter and cream. The only downside was that it was a bit under seasoned, which was easily rectified with the on-table salt shaker.
One to often choose the most unique-sounding item on any menu, I ordered the pasta special for the night — that same fettuccine sauced with pistachios, pecorino cheese, butte,r and fried sage. It's a combination I'd never tasted, but it was wonderful, particularly with a quartino of Channing Daughters Winery's Rosati di Merlot (the restaurants only non-Italian wine). The faint earthy-herbal notes in the rose went extremely well with the sage in particular. I loved this dish enough that I plan to replicate it at home sometime soon.
Having dined "out of the box" with my pasta course, I stuck with a standard for my main entrée, thoroughly enjoying my veal Milanese. It was cooked exactly the way it should be — crunchy-crisp on the outside, tender, juicy and flavorful on the inside — and was served with a fresh salad of white beans, red onions, and arugula. A honey-balsamic vinegar dressing joined the salad and the chicken together well. It's a familiar, homey dish executed quite well.
Nena, ever the seafood lover, selected the fish special for the night, a pan roasted piece of sea bass with mussels, fingerling potatoes, tarragon and shallots. Stated simply, she deemed it a terrific, extremely well-cooked combination. The bass had a great sear on it and the potatoes were tender but not soft. The mussels were "creamy and unlike any I've had before." And while she doesn't normally like tarragon much, she thought it was a great "accent flavor here." For wine, we shared a bottle of Franz Haas 2004 "Manna" a spicy, complex blend of riesling, chardonnay, and gewürztraminer from the Alto Adige region. It was the recommended foil for the bass entrée and it was easy to see why. It was outstanding and is a wine we'll seek out in the future.
Eating dessert is always a joy when I'm with my wife. She is a great lover of dinner's sweet ending and her palate is expertly tuned — and trained — in the subject matter. To conclude this meal, she ordered the Torta di Cioccolato a flourless chocolate cake with a hazelnut center, panna gelato, and chocolate sauce. All you need to know about this dessert is the reaction it received, a prolonged mmmm, a content sigh and a broad smile.
I dove back into my "most unique thing on the menu" persona and ordered the Pere Affogate e Gorgonzola Dolce, a combination of poached pears with gorgonzola cheese, moscato gelee, and crisp pizzelle. The cheese — and I'm a great lover of blue cheeses — was a bit overpowering here but the fruit smoothed it out a little, as did the cinnamon accents.
The pizzelle weren't much like the authentic ones my Italian grandmother and great-grandmother made growing up, but they were still tasty.