Vic's Italian Restaurant Opens In Nolita | Tasting Table NYC

When Vicki Freeman closed Five Points's doors in July, she wasn't expecting to use the space anytime soon. She was in the midst of planning Rosie's, the Mexican restaurant she's opening with husband and chef Marc Meyer, not to mention managing their other two always-bustling restaurants, Hundred Acres and Cookshop.

But a serendipitous encounter with Corkbuzz's Missy Robbins changed all that: Robbins insisted she meet chef Hillary Sterling, despite Freeman not having an opening. They got to talking, and "everything she wanted to do was what I wanted to do," Freeman says.

So she put Rosie's on hold (watch for a March opening) and got to work gutting the entire space (Vic's isn't a Five Points redux, and it's not meant to feel that way). Gone are the columns and the planter that divided the dining room; what remains is a cleaner, more open design with a lighter palette. When it came to christening the new venture, Freeman paid homage to her first (short-lived) restaurant, VIX Café, where she met Meyer and which "just felt unfinished" to her.

Chef Hillary Sterling, owner Vicki Freeman and the crispy onion appetizer

As for the menu, Brooklyn-born Sterling, whose resume includes A Voce, Corkbuzz (both under Robbins) and The Beatrice Inn, made it "old-school European food in a modern way," which translates into loosely Italian-Mediterranean pasta, pizza and hearty mains, in other words "the stuff that I would want to eat," Sterling says.

If you're in for dinner, start things off with the peasant bread ($3). While we're usually all for the bread basket regardless, the crunchy slices doused in tangy goat butter and garlic that seeps all the way through the bread more than earn their spot on the table. Marinated cabbage ($7)—one of Sterling's favorite menu items—may seem more like kimchi than anything Italian, but go with it: The chiles and caraway make magic together.

The crispy eggplant, which created a stir the first few weeks of Vic's opening, are out of season, but its replacement, crispy fried onions ($11), is the finest example of fancy onion rings we've tried. Soaked overnight in buttermilk, the thick wedges are coated in rice flour, fried, topped with house-made tomato powder made from California San Marzanos and served with Parmigiano fonduta. The taste? Reminiscent of high-end Cheetos, and we mean that in the best possible way.

Clockwise from top left: roasted oxtail, roasted chicken, burrata pizza

When it comes to the pasta, veer toward the more unfamiliar preparations: House-made rye rigatoni ($13 for half; $20 for full) is an unexpected delight, made even better by slow-cooked lamb shoulder, while half moons of sheep's milk ricotta-stuffed borsa ($12 for half; $19 for full) are balanced by bright, buttery lemon sauce.

No matter where you sit, you're bound to notice the mammoth oven in the open kitchen. Let it serve as a reminder that you must order one of the five pizzas, all of which are made with American flour (nearly everything on the menu is sourced domestically). "I really can't pick one I love more," Sterling says. But we're partial to the burrata with bagnet vert and anchovy ($14), and the pie piled high with sweet and hot peppers pickled in-house ($12).

Never one to let things go to waste, Sterling turns the pickling liquid from said peppers into a puckery chile agrodolce in which two roasted oxtails and a slice of marbled brisket rest ($26). And while chicken dishes elicit eye rolls from many, the roasted chicken atop Brussels sprouts salad tossed with mustard seeds ($24) sets a new standard for what a chicken dish should be. Just save room for the parsnip and honey cake ($9), an elevated carrot cake served as a mini bundt with a side of crème fraîche gelato.

RELATED   Hidden Gem: Mulino a Vino "

As for brunch, you'll no longer see pitchers of mimosas shuttled through the dining room. But you will find baked eggs coddled in Fresno pepper harissa and slow-cooked lamb (yep, the same lamb from the rigatoni; $16), and poached eggs nestled in a bed of polenta and crispy pork broth ($15).

Sterling, like Freeman and Meyer, lives nearby, and we can't help but think their proximity has something to do with the neighborhood vibe that still remains from the Five Points days.

"I live around the corner," Freeman says. "That space is just part of my life."