- 63 Clinton St., New York, NY, 10002
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- Thu-Sat. 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Sun.-Wed. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Bar open until 2:30 a.m.
To understand what Fatta Cuckoo—a tiny New American charmer on busy Clinton Street—is all about, you need understand its quirky name first. Loosely translated, it means "to make crazy," and it's the cheeky phrase that the grandmother of this joint's owner, Leah Tinari, used to say when their Bronx-raised Italian family finished eating. It's this kind of playful family spirit that, quite literally, informs the entire vibe of this intimate and inviting newcomer. Tinari's brother, an alumn of Diner and Marlow & Sons, is the chef; her sister mans the front of the house; and her mom, who owns a successful bistro in North Jersey, bakes all the desserts. (Even her hubby, a carpenter on TV shows like "Boardwalk Empire," worked on the cheerful interiors.) Apparently, the family that cooks together stays together—with some petty bickering here and there, Tinari admits. Thankfully, this family has saved you a spot at their table. You'll want to dig in. And stay for seconds. —ALL
Global mind, Italian soul
Chef Jonathan Tinari’s menu is hardly Batalian, with dishes like ginger-soy salmon and escarole with lardon and egg that hardly evoke the beloved boot. What is Italian, though, is cooking driven by the market. The chalkboard menu—both listed on a sandwich board outside and on a large section of the interior wall—notes a daily soup, appetizer, salad, risotto, mussel, fish and crepe. Even the cocktails rotate daily, complementing a fine list of solid standbys (Vesper, Sazerac) and more obscure classics (Corpse Reviver, Boulevardier). We happily dove into these specials, as well as the 10 fixed menu items. —MR
Good cop: Artichoke dip, meatballs, salads, prosciutto and maple melon, steak tartare, branzino, spring risotto
We began one of our visits with a ramekin of warm artichoke dip (served with well-oiled crostini) and skewered meatballs, and it felt like we had been invited to a smartly catered NFC Championship party. The pork-beef meatballs, a special, had a nice kick of fire and were served atop spaghetti. Cooling things down was a beautiful spring salad of radicchio and pickled onions. Why more chefs aren’t pickling produce for salads is shocking—the sour zip worked magic with hunks of fried goat cheese. Another salad was a big winner: a frisée tossed with artichoke vinaigrette and the smokiest applewood bacon we’ve tried in a city that basically invented the bacon makes everything better meme. (BTW, it doesn’t). We did find out that a maple reduction makes prosciutto and melon better, in another of the chef’s winning plats du jour.
On a breezy Friday lunch visit, we happened upon a beef tartare dish making its big debut. (The owner apologized for the wait, as the chef was making some last-minute changes). The idea of eating a plate of experimental raw rib eye was made way less scary with a very nice horseradish crème fraiche. An oven-roasted whole branzino—well butchered and perfectly cooked—was only overshadowed by the scallop potatoes that had been brought to life with agave syrup. A lunch portion of the daily risotto was rich with pesto and cream and turned out to be a one-way ticket to food coma. But on a summer Friday, it didn’t really matter. —MR
Bad cop: Smoked salmon tartare, veal dumplings, Hemingway cocktail
During our first visit, our server casually mentioned that Brother Chef wasn't in the kitchen that night. If so, perhaps he might have caught the few fizzlers we had before they hit our table. A smoked salmon tartare, although smooth and delicate, was grossly over-salted—a disappointing antithesis to the rich steak tartare we'd have later on. There are veal dumplings here that look appetizing on the plate—two supersize raviolo humps, served over caramelized radicchio and sprinkled with roasted red peppers. But they turned out to be bland and unappealingly textured—I wasn't sure where the dough ended and the veal started, with everything blending into a flavorless mass. The cocktail program here is top-notch (see above); the Hemingway Daiquiri we were served, however, wasn't. It was wrongly proportioned with the citrus (lime and grapefruit juice) overpowering the rum. —ALL
A note about the pies…
Try them—they're ridiculously good. So good in fact, they deserve their own pie shop. Tinari's mom, who owns Janice, A Bistro in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., bakes the pies there and zips them over to Fatta Cuckoo. Sometimes even Tinari doesn't know what Mom is whipping up—she typically gets a first taste of the pies when they arrive. Thankfully, Mom knows what she's doing, baking up terrific pies like key lime, chocolate cream and coconut custard.
It's no easy feat cracking a Clinton Street stronghold that includes such gourmand staples as wd-50, Clinton Street Baking Co. and Falai—all within two block of each other. Fatta Cuckoo is a stealthy addition to the mix: a quaint joint where thoughtful, well prepared food belies a discerning global flair, and a fun sense of famiglia.
Photo by Noah Fecks