A Big Who: Civetta Opens

I have some history with 98 Kenmare Street, the address of chef Ron Suhanosky’s new, “real” Italian restaurant, Civetta. I tried to broker a deal at that space between “fiends” — oops, that’s a typo but let’s leave it — I meant friends, Todd English, Joe “Viagra” Vicari, my boy Igor, and some other chaps. People with Igor as a first name invariably have forgettable last names, and anyway we made up as he apologized to me on his wedding night, and so he gets a pass. I saw The Godfather 50 times. A public bitch-slapping match between myself and super duper chef Todd English happened in all the funny papers some time ago, but even Todd I forgive, as I hear through channels that he is sorry. The problem with Todd in the first place is that he does everything through channels. He negotiated in bad faith and blamed the “channels.” He bitch-slapped me in the papers through his publicity “channel,” and I guess with 20 restaurants under his wing, he even cooks through a “channel.” Well, the deal fell through, and fast friends have slowly become less hateful to each other. Anyway, I’m not here today to talk about old beef. I’m here to talk about new beef, in the form of Civetta owner and chef Ron’s grilled sirloin alla pizziaola, rughetta, sea salt, and other delectables.

My old co-worker and fast friend Dirk Von Stockum is on board to steer this ship. His trademark belly laugh and James Bond-ish accent are familiar to the fast-lane crowd. With a wife and a four-year-old kid, Dirk will find a quieter happiness in this beautiful downtown restaurant. Years at Life, Spa, Crobar, and a dozen other joints bring an A-list rolodex of patrons to Civetta. My old pal Michael Benett, (“the good twin” to the club world) is also on board. My “old number 2” bartender from my Life/Spa days, Drew “Z” Zechman is slinging cocktails and is in on the drink menu. They make their own sodas, and they have a state-of-the-art water-purifying system, which is all the rage about town. Those nasty water bottles are petroleum-based and plastic and have to be shipped — but you know all of this. Cocktails have never been better in this town as the Milk and Honey types and chefs everywhere take this very seriously. Yet no one has shown me an improvement on Jamesons — oh, oops, I’m rambling again. Roberto Scarpati, late of Le Cirque, is the wine director. Wines will be accessible, low-production, paired, and readily available with solid organic choices.

“Civetta” means owl, or in Italian slang, a flirtatious owl or flirtatious woman. The up and down movement between the dining room on the street level to the casual dining lounge below is designed as dynamic for socializing. It will be a place to see and be seen for a flirtatious Nolita crowd. La Esquina, a short flight west. has done all the heavy lifting and still caters to a very sharp set. The Civetta menu is dominated by a ginormous list of antipasti and has 30 wines by the glass. I love ordering lots of small tasty things, so if you’re looking for me I’ll be there, albeit with my seat facing the 50-plus feet of open French doors. An old menu from 1937 is framed on a column, and it lists bottles of classy champagnes for around six bucks a bottle and a spaghetti Bolognese that goes for 35 cents. Today’s menu has a rigatoni Bolognese for $28 and lists some very wonderful “Rari and Unici” bottles for non-1937 prices.

Times change and so does my old neighborhood. New cuisine comes with the new inhabitants and visitors. I asked chef Suhonsky why he would open an Italian place so close to the hundred other such places of Little Italy. He told me that they were “not serving real Italian food.” I asked him if he had discussed this theory with anyone in the neighborhood. He answered that he “didn’t feel that Civetta was really part of Little Italy, but skewed west as part of Soho.” I quipped that it was sort of like an Omaha beach, a foothold of his “real” Italian food for the gentrified set. He explained that what was served around the corner was “spaghetti and meatballs, American-Italian food.” I ate at Umberto’s last night with GoldBar door concierge Jon Lennon, and I don’t know what to call it, but it tasted good. I can’t argue with Ron. His massive success at Il Buco and Sfoglia here and in Nantucket means he’s right. With the Bowery booming with life and new construction, a serious “real” Italian menu, amazing wine list, dedication to cocktails and service from proven veterans, and two floors in a location I almost died for — I see this as a hit. I’m going to find myself some flirtatious owl and check it out next week.