Jan 17, 2024

Review: Marc Forgione’s One Fifth Restaurant Is Layered With History

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Few restaurants have as distinguished or as marred a pedigree as One Fifth in Greenwich Village on the ground level of one of New York's most famous residential buildings. In the last century when the interior looked like a cruise ship, this combination steakhouse-piano bar was frequented by David Bowie, Robert Mapplethorpe, and early Saturday Night Live cast members. Keith McNally was general manager there in the mid-’70s, and that was where he famously made eggs Benedict for Anna Wintour. When the restaurant called Vince and Linda moved into the same space in the mid-’90s, the chef was none other than Anthony Bourdain. It's not just the restaurant that's New York-famous, but the building, described by Sex and the City's Candace Bushnell in her 2008 book, One Fifth Avenue as a "one-of-a-kind address."

In 2003, the restaurant was renamed Otto, the Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich spot that served less memorable pizza while highlighting satisfying small dishes devoted to farmers market vegetables and pickled seafood. It finally shuttered after nearly two decades in 2020 having survived Batali's disgrace, but not COVID. Now two years later it has been reborn under its original name.

The latest chef, Marc Forgione resuscitates One Fifth the way he did Peasant. He has history and backing, with his own renown; in addition, his father, Larry Forgione, having been one of the city's most respected chefs in the ‘80s and ‘90s, spearheaded restaurants such as An American Place, a Midtown spot serving luxury ingredients with big flavors sourced directly from their producers.

One Fifth's ship-like entryway opens up to a serpentine layout largely intact from Otto. Aimed at walk-ins, the bar in front retains the feel of an Italian railroad station, with raised marble counters for a quick quaff. A dark, wood-clad hallway with tight seating leads to a much larger and brighter dining room that tacks around large columns, with windows gloriously overlooking cobbled Washington Mews.

On my first visit to One Fifth soon after it opened in August, the younger Forgione welcomed his father, who beamed with pride. The extended family sat at what had been the Batali family's regular table in the paneled hallway. My head was spinning at the layered culinary history.

The menu developed by Forgione and his executive chef Robert Zwirz owes as much to Otto as it does to An American Place. The menu is divided into five sections: antipasti, pinsa, pasta, from the market, and meat and fish; nearly half the dishes fall in the antipasti section. Like Otto, it invites customers to dart in for a quick bite and a glass of wine. Greenwalk baby trout ($21) is the best one I tried, three fish the size of small sardines crumbed and fried, flecked with olives and celery in a light vinaigrette. Devour them head, bones, and all.

The one I’m most looking forward to eating again is a pair of lamb mortadella sliders on seeded rolls ($14), the lamb grainier and more intensely flavored than its piggy counterpart. Kabocha caponata was another hit, a round clay pot of orange squash treated much the same as eggplant in this Sicilian classic, sided with farmers market mozzarella and toasted bread. You’ll find squash all over the menu at One Fifth; this is autumn, after all.

Other apps bombed, including a dish described as squash blossom zeppole, imprisoning a minimal amount of actual flower in a doughy fritter. A Milanese veal tonnato, which was good except for the head-scratching addition of broccoli rabe, points what should be a light dish in a bitter and heavier direction. This being a modern, tapas-style restaurant, the pasta and entree sections are slender, confined to four dishes each, and those dishes are barely larger than the small plates.

That said, don't miss the pastas, including a black pepper casarecce ($23): scrolls of dough tossed with a thick duck ragu and crumbled duck skin. A plate of agnolotti in an incandescent buttery sauce tastes delightfully of sage and sweet squash. Consider sharing these plates since they’re rich. For an entree, I went for the steak, which proved to be four large chunks ($27 for five ounces) accompanied by a pair of sauces, salsa verde and horseradish, that were individually delicious but less so as it's served, mixed together.

The oblong Roman pizzas called pinsas have been with us for a few years at places like Montesacro and My Pie Pizza Romana, never attracting much attention. At One Fifth they form the centerpiece of the menu, with seven variations listed. These are lofty, oblong, doughy pies with plenty of crispness to the crust top and bottom. The cherry tomato pinsa ($15) is fundamental, name-checking DiPalo's Little Italy mozzarella. Riding an orange wave, the squash pinsa offers a sweeter and more complex flavor by way of creamy goat cheese.

One Fifth has a by-the-glass wine list that runs to 19 selections, in which Italy and California fight for your patronage. A Nerello Mascalese from Mt. Etna's chalky slopes is the perfect light red to go with a pinsa, while a Sauvignon Blanc from Lodi, California is a dry complement to the sweet squash caponata. Matching wines to dishes on the menu — whether you try them or not — makes for an engaging culinary jigsaw puzzle as you wait for your dishes to arrive.

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