PHOTOS BY CATHY PINSKY
A walnut tart with berries came alongside a dish of zabaglione
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Bronxville’s Scalini Osteria has a lot of things going for it, not the least of which is its cozy setting around the corner from tony, globe-lighted Pondfield Road. In warm weather, the 45-seat restaurant extends its embrace to include two outdoor dining rooms, the prettiest of which is a romantic brick courtyard, where, on spring’s chilly nights, you can snuggle in one of Scalini’s blankets and toast under the glow of a heat lamp. Scalini’s wine list is smart and gently priced, and its soft lights flatter all ages; it’s a very comfortable, neighborhood restaurant for people of very comfortable means.
Given built-in elegance and a wealthy customer base, Scalini could easily drift into a sort of well-heeled lack of relevance. Thankfully, the restaurant stays on trend with surprises like an excellent Italian craft beer list that offers Almond 22 Torbata, a barleywine brewed with chestnuts in Abruzzo. Scalini’s wine list is equally sprightly, and offers wonderful, inexpensive Italian picks, like Villa Giada’s “Quercia” Barbera D’Asti for $45. In fact, you can even sneak by with a $35 bottle of Italian Chardonnay—or keep to the happy, by-the-glass wines like a fine Sardinian Vermentino for $8.
The pleasure doesn’t end when you open the seasonal menu, which includes all the words that set an Italian food lover’s heart alight: figs, prosciutto, fava beans, burrata, quail, rabbit ragu. After digging into focaccia and white-bean dip, snug by a window overlooking the courtyard, I found it a heartbreak when a few of Scalini’s dishes didn’t live up to their promise. My first dish, an appetizer of grilled quail, arrived overcooked; it was paired with a shaved apple-fennel salad that, unfortunately, contained no apples. And, while a soulful and brothy artichoke soup with prosciutto crisps was as comforting as a bowl of peasant soup can be (and that’s very), our starter of burrata in warm tomato sauce arrived icy cold, which effectively stifled the cheese’s subtle dairy flavor and tightened its all-important ooze. A comforting appetizer of Taleggio-haunted polenta bore a seductive, darkly meaty, Barolo-braised oxtail topping, but the whole was dragged down by a perceptible lack of salt. This omission felt like a burst joy bubble, though it might also be a choice made by a smart kitchen that knows its customers.
The bucatini Amatriciana was perfectly al dente
This is an intimate restaurant in a tightly knit community that’s well supported by loyalists; in fact, on weekends and warm evenings, Scalini’s tables book up fast. Chances are, Scalini doesn’t miss too many cues when it comes to its customers’ preferences. Consistently through our meals, the restaurant’s kitchen had a light hand with seasoning, most demonstrably in an inappropriately elegant version of the classic bucatini Amatriciana. While the long, hollow bucatini was cooked to split-second perfection, its sauce lacked the lively dish’s signature porky resonance and chili spike. And a fig-filled agnolotti that promised the glorious funk of Gorgonzola actually seemed to contain none at all. Scalini’s kitchen seems to prefer gentler flavors, like a silken and delicious “half-moon” pasta filled with pumpkin, which arrives luxuriantly dressed in brown butter and scattered with a few crisp leaves of sage. Or a simply (and perfectly) seared wild bass, whose milky flesh was pleasantly set off by romesco sauce and a light and earthy panzanella: mild and lovely, and perfectly executed.
Just when we thought we’d come to a resolution (the kitchen under-seasons its food to appeal to its customers’ conservative palates), out came a spice-crusted Black Angus tagliata, whose peppery bite added amplification but didn’t blow away the flavor of the beef. It was paired with perfect partners, too: an autumnal potato-celeriac purée and almost crisp sautéed kale. It’s not as though Scalini can’t season its food; it’s that, sometimes, it prefers not to.
Desserts can be a mixed bag at Scalini; a cannoli with its crisp shell and fluffy, tangy filling is at the top of the list. At the bottom is a strange, warm walnut tart that arrived gob-stoppingly dry. But desserts are only a part of the post-prandial scene at Scalini. Perhaps as an invitation to linger in the inviting room (or under the stars), the restaurant offers a long and intriguing list of after-dinner drinks like trendy Fernet-Branca bitters and a wide selection of whiskeys and bourbons. True, there were some faults at Scalini, but this is a very seductive restaurant. Given its cozy room, pretty lighting, and the overall appeal of the menu and wine, it’s hard to walk away from Scalini without a pleasant memory.
65 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville (914) 337-4935; scaliniosteria.com
Hours: lunch, Mon to Sat 12–3 pm; dinner, Mon to Sat 5–10 pm, Sun 2:30-9 pm; brunch, Sun 11:30 am-2:30pm
Antipasti: $9–$14; pasta: $18–$22; entrées: $23–$29; desserts: $8.50-$9.50
â˜…â˜…â˜…â˜…—Outstanding â˜…â˜…â˜…—Very Good