The hottest new thing in Italian food drifted in on a raft made of wisp-thin chickpea flour pancakes.
Those would be cecini, a Tuscan crepe and one of the signature dishes at Santina, whose pastel polo shirt-clad waitstaff and candy-colored Solimene plates ushered in a wave of what's being hailed as "coastal Italian" in restaurants across New York City. And as with many other trends, as New York ebbs, the rest of the country catches the flow.
What does "coastal Italian" mean exactly? Major Food Group partner Jeff Zalaznick told me around the time Santina opened early this year, "It could be anything from Liguria all the way down to Sicily. If I had to pick one region, for us, it would probably be the Amalfi Coast."
At other restaurants, the coast could translate as the Sicilian-inspired sausage meatballs and prosciutto cotto and pistachio-stuffed arancini at John McDonald's Sessanta, a midcentury, clubby beauty inside Soho's Sixty hotel. Or it could include Alfred Portale's Gotham Riviera menu at Gotham Bar and Grill, which covers major ground—from France to the La Spezia region in Italy—and offers dishes like linguine with ruby shrimp, calamari, scallops, tomatoes and anchovies.
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All'onda's Chris Jaeckle recently expanded his sights from Venice—the city which inspired his original menu—to take a broader look at Italy's waters. Seafood has always been an integral part of his cooking, but he's tweaked it ever so slightly.
"To me, 'coastal Italian' means lightness, simplicity and that feeling of outdoors-ness," Jaeckle says. "There's a smoky element that's light, but it's there, and lots of lemon juice."
The broad definition means there's lots of room to play. Take Jaeckle's celery salad (see the recipe). The only real "coastal" element is a drizzle of Calabrian chile oil, and the rest of the salad is inspired by something nearly as American as apple pie: buffalo wings.
"I've always wanted to make celery the central component of a dish," Jaeckle says. "I was eating wings and celery, and I thought, 'This is great.' I have some Calabrian chile oil and Blu di Bufala at the restaurant; there's some mayo on the plate—it's my interpretation of the garnishes on chicken wings, in a sense."
The dish has everything you want in a great salad: crunch, freshness, heat from those Calabrian chiles, chunks of salty cheese and a smear of homemade mayo for good measure—a deconstructed blue cheese dressing, if you will.
Consider it your new favorite Italian American mash-up.
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