Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
355 West 46 Street, New York, NY

Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo

We'd wanted to try this place for a long while, but they were always booked out, with lines going out the door. So, imagine our surprise when we walked off the street on a very cold, windy Easter evening. We popped into the door, just to ask if they had a cancellation? They did! We got seated right away in a small banquette table in the bar area.

There are diverse groups of people who come here; there are many, many tourists (not just from far away, but also from the suburbs) who admire the television shows of proprietor Lydia Bastianich in Lydia's Italian Kitchen. It's actually a family business, in that this was the townhouse her son, Joe, and his then-new bride lived. It's kind of old world to give a business to your son, to make sure your future grandchildren are taken care of! But Joe Bastianich is a sommelier and restaurant owner in his own right, and a partner of Mario Batali in several restaurant efforts throughout the city and beyond.

It's near the theatre area, and on a block containing many restaurants along 46th Street. Many are bar-and-grill types, and there are many European and Asian cuisines represented (including Russian and Spanish), as well as Italian. There are pre-theatre specials that will serve you in time to get to the play or musical, and later dining. The best times to go to one of these restaurants if you are not scheduled to go to a show is after 8pm. What makes Becco special? It's not only good, and has excellent service, but has amazing bargains that they admit to up-front.

The waiter will ask if this is your first time; if so, they will explain that there is a pasta special of all-you-can-eat of three different types, which are replenished as often as you wish. There are specials and à la carte, many featuring polenta and faro in a more Tuscan / northern Italian style. (Indeed, Lydia's surname indicates her husband's family is likely Slovenian / Yugoslavian, which shares a border with Italy to the northeast.)

But it was our first time there, and so we opted to try the pasta "buffet" which comes with a starter of either a Caesar salad or antepasti. We opted for the latter, because it sounded more interesting and features various seafood preparations and vegetables that have been roasted or pickled. The cost is $22.95 per person for antepasti and pasta; at lunch, it's $5 less.

Bread was brought in a square wooden box — a Tuscan white bread, a herb focaccia, and grissini. To accompany was a white bean and roasted pepper purée with a fragrant olive oil drizzled over (think hummus), and olives of many kinds. This was already worth the cost of the meal: the bread was well textured and lighter than expected, the grissini was appealingly dry and salty, and the olive selection was interesting and briny. We had a hard time restraining ourselves.

Becco also has a clever idea for the wine list — every bottle is $25 on the list (though there are more expensive bottles too, on request). This place is interested in having their customers try as much as possible, without fretting the cost of the food and wine items.

The antepasti dishes were enormous for one, and one serving could have done for two! Included on our plates: roasted red peppers, grilled zucchini, pickled carrot, sun-dried tomato, chickpeas and beans, roasted cippolini onions, haricot verts, and a bocconcini (bite-size mozzarella ball). On the side were two dishes, one with a cod spread, the other with grilled octopus and potato salad in a vinaigrette with red onions. At this point, we tried to pace ourselves in preparation for the pastas (which we'd seen being carried around the dining room and served to those who ordered the "sinfonia di pasta") but resistance was futile. We ended up eating it all.

And then it was time for the pasta. The pastas for the day: fussili (really rotelle) with a basil pesto and haricot verts; a chitarra (a cut spaghetti-type noodle) with a classical tomato-basil sauce; and a lamb-stuffed ravioli with a red wine and mint gravy. You can have as much as you wish. People all around us who ordered this option ate varying amounts, most finished their first plate and asked for "a bit" of one favorite or another. (There was a couple next to us who looked like they'd met at spring break and the girl made a show of not being able to get through her pasta. Yes, we were tempted to kick her out of the restaurant!) They were all delicious, and one of us loved the chitarra for the chewy texture of the fresh pasta in its well-balanced sauce. The other adored the rotelle in pesto. And believe it or not, they actually let us pack up our leftovers to take home — highly unusual for a "buffet."

There are more bargains to be had on the dessert menu. Each dessert is $7.50 per person, but if you ask for a tasting of a variety of their most popular desserts, it costs $6 per person! For the two of us, they brought out blood orange sorbetto, vanilla pannacotta garnished with rehydrated raisins, chocolate mousse cake, ricotta cheesecake, and a bread pudding with raisins. We also got the grappa tasting, of restaurant-infused fruit brandy. One serving is $9, but a tasting of four different grappas is $18. The waiter selected apricot, pear, cherry, and fig grappas for us. They were all delicious, and though they featured some of the fruit in the bottom of each glass, we discovered that the fire of the grappa resided within. We suppose that this is in exchange for the fruit flavors which impregnated the alcohol. It does take a sip first to coat your palate, and we promise youll enjoy the second sip more. Coffee is $3.50 each, and is refilled as you wish and is large and delicious.

All told, we had three breads, antipasti, three different pastas, five desserts, four grappas, and coffee — for a total of $80. It was an enormous amount of food, and we got to take home our leftover pasta and desserts, too. We tipped 30%, knowing that a meal of this quality and quantity would normally cost 30% more in another restaurant.

There were not "children's plates" or efforts to dumb down the menu. The menu also featured little icons letting people know in which cookbook of Bastianich's eaters can find the recipe. Autographed books are available for sale from the maitre d'.

The service was excellent, with an army of servers and busboys to clear, refill water and pasta. The space is large, located as it is in a double-townhouse, but there are so many people waiting for tables and just hanging out at the bar that the staff were busy excusing themselves and climbing around patrons. None of it was obtrusive or rude at all, even when it was obvious that some customers were just having a surly night.

The banquettes and chairs are comfortable, and we discovered that the tables are the same as those in Casa Mono, another Batali-Bastianich restaurant. They feature little shelves under the table for putting purses and napkins, the better to make use of tight spaces.

Do make a reservation if you can, but if you can't, try walking in especially in less-trafficked times if you have a smaller party of diners. The maitre d' told us that there are always cancellations, and smaller parties are more likely to be seated than larger ones. A great bargain for the totally delicious and well-crafted fare in pleasant surroundings.

Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com. Enjoy!