Po Still On Top For Italian Fare In Greenwich Village

A sleeper Italian gem in Greenwich Village

Everywhere around subdued Cornelia Street, Manhattan roars with the din of extra-virgin olive oil gurgling and pasta water roiling.

But even amid the city's bellowing obsession with new-wave Italian food, the charming lilt of Cornelia's 20-year-old restaurant remains audible.

As you may recall, Pó first came to prominence under the helm of a certain chef in orange clogs. Since 2001, Lee McGrath has run the kitchen at the miniscule restaurant, and McGrath's food is as vibrant as the room is small.

It is difficult to assemble a salad that is both substantive and refreshing. But McGrath stabilizes Southern Italy's airy fennel-and-orange salad ($13) by marinating shaved fennel with lemon juice and thyme, then serving it with green Sicilian olives and plucky ricotta salata.

Cured tuna ($15) with artichokes and white beans is similarly bold, and the classic three-meat Bolognese that sauces house-made spinach tagliatelle ($18) is fragrant with nutmeg. There are surprises, too: For example, guinea hen thighs cooked, as if they were chickens, under a brick ($22), and plated with fregula rich with Grana Padano. McGrath likens it to "Italian mac 'n' cheese."

Speak, Pó. We are listening.