The pools of slush all over the city are deep enough to swim in. The forecast? A billion shades of gray.
Friends, these may be the darkest days of the New York City winter.
But there is a place where you can escape to the sandy beaches of Italy, and all you have to do is trudge on over to the Meatpacking District: We mean Santina, the latest restaurant from team Torrisi (aka Major Food Group). It opened just a few weeks ago near the new Whitney Museum building under the High Line and bills itself as "coastal Italian."
If you're looking for a dime-a-dozen NYC restaurant (low lighting, exposed brick, mirrored bar, burrata aplenty), by all means, do not go to Santina. Nothing about it is subdued, starting with the fact that it's literally in a Renzo Piano-designed glass house. The colors and textures scream 1960s Amalfi Coast chic (see: the mural made out of chipped blue and Tuscan yellow plates, by Julian Schnabel, inspired by an island off the coast of Positano). If Carmen Miranda were from The Boot and decided to open a restaurant, it would probably look something like Santina.
Clockwise, from top left: Chitarra Santina | Octopus spiedini | The restaurant's interior | The menu at Santina
"We wanted the restaurant to feel transportative, so that when you walk in, you feel like you're in a completely different place," Major Food partner Jeff Zalaznick says.
Mission accomplished: The downright cheery waitstaff flits about in lilac polo shirts and tangerine-hued mini aprons. Lush, oversize arrangements bursting with birds-of-paradise decorate the top of the square marble bar, while floral Murano glass chandeliers in a rainbow of Skittles colors hang overhead. What's that in the corner? Oh, it's just a woman nearly hidden underneath a palm tree. (There are orange trees, too, in case you were wondering.) It's a tropical assault on the senses–but one that's welcome on these cold nights.
The food ain't shy either; it's a mash-up of Italian coastal flavors that doesn't take itself too seriously. And you can't take it too seriously, either, when you're eating off of custom hand-painted ceramic plates from Southern Italian pottery maker Solimene. Ducks may wade around the edges of your plate for one course; horses may dance around the next.
As for those colorful cake stands you'll see on just about every table, they're topped with cast-iron pans holding just-cooked cecini ($12), crepe-like pancakes made from chickpea flour and water. Break off a paper-thin piece and top it with caper-studded lamb tartare, or smear a slab with Santina's two house-made condiments (a smoky, oily tomato sofrito, or spicy salsa verde).
In the Chitarra Santina ($17), house-made noodles are studded with mussels, nubs of spicy Merguez sausage and ribbons of zucchini. The sauce is little more than the juice from the mussels and some white wine, olive oil and garlic, but the lightness lets the other ingredients shine.
Cecina with lamb tartare | Atrani Grog cocktail
The Bass Agrigento ($24) is cacciatore-esque, with pieces of fish smothered in a stewy pepper-and-tomato sauce brightened, in a nod to Sicily, with orange slices. What's the meat blend in the playful Polpetti Americani ($23)? Why, that would be 100 percent turkey meatballs, with just a bit of rice to hold them together.
Dessert follows in sunny suit: We can't think of a more cheerful way to end a meal than with three homemade mini cannoli ($10), filled with pistachio, cherry and coconut cream. Crunching through their pastry shells almost makes you forget you have to face the blustery winds once you leave the protection of the glass walls.
You may want to coast inside a little bit longer.