Urbanspoon lists 1836 Italian restaurants in NYC. If you search for NYC Italian restaurants on yelp, you’ll find 2659 options. And if you google the term “NYC Italian restaurants”, you’ll get 50,200,000 results.
So yeah, there are somewhere between 1836 and 50,200,000 Italian restaurants in NYC. And I passed up all of them for Cacio e Vino, a Sicilian place in the East Village.
This better be effing good.
We picked on Cacio e Vino mostly because a friend heartily recommended a dish called cacio e piselli, which consists of spaghetti and peas served inside a massive wheel of pecorino cheese. That sounded awesome. Was the giant pecorino wheel going to be mostly hollowed-out, with only the rind intact? Or would we be able to chip off chunks of the giant pecorino to mix into our pasta? It all sounded very exciting.
Before we would have the chance to experience the pleasures of the giant pecorino, we had to endure some foreplay with the appetizer menu. Since we were in a Sicilian place, we asked our charming Sicilian server to steer us toward her favorite Sicilian treats.
She specifically recommended the arancini—fried balls stuffed with rice, ground beef, and spices ($7.95). They were far tastier than, say, fried butter on a stick, but arguably less interesting. However, our salads—a sweet-and-sour eggplant caponata with chickpea fritters and goat cheese ($11.95) and a tossed salad with mandarins and fennel ($9.95)—were excellent, and a perfect way to whet our appetites before we attempted to stuff the giant pecorino in our mouths.
When the giant pecorino finally arrived, we were mildly disappointed. I mean, it was definitely large enough. In fact, it was unquestionably the broadest, thickest, roundest pecorino I’d ever seen in my life. But the waiter simply mixed up the spaghetti inside the pecorino’s small hole, transferred it into a bowl, and took the giant pecorino back to the kitchen.
The unveiling of the giant pecorino left us with more questions than answers. Did the pasta-hole in the giant pecorino slowly expand over time, accommodating ever-larger portions of spaghetti? How did they keep the giant pecorino clean? By running it through a dish machine, or just with an occasional, slow rubdown?
As it turns out, the pea-drizzled pasta inside the giant pecorino (cacio e piselli, $13.95) was peppery and delicious, but the portion was lamentably small. We also ordered a Sicilian pasta dish with anchovy and fried egg (spaghetti alla siciliana, $16.95), which was also delicious, but small. So we ordered a third pasta dish with mint and tuna (busiate con tonno, $19.95), which was also delicious, and also small.
We followed our three plates of pasta with an order of Sicilian flatbread topped with cheese, sausage, and red peppers (schiacciata piccante, $14.95), just to make sure that nobody went home with that empty feeling that can only result when you haven’t been sufficiently stuffed by the giant pecorino. And for once, the restaurant surprised us with a massive plate of food. The flatbread wasn’t earth-shattering, but it had been pulled straight from an oven located less than 15 feet from our table, and all of the toppings were ludicrously fresh.
The bill came to $60 per person, include a generous tip, a couple of petite shared desserts, and two drinks each. Sixty bucks is fairly normal for a nice meal in the East Village, but an epic, miserable ripoff compared to my usual hole-in-the-wall favorites.
To be fair, all of my (lightweight) companions were moaning and groaning about how full they were after the meal. We even had a big chunk of sausage-stuffed Sicilian flatbread leftover from the meal. I happily ate it on the walk home, but wondered if I would have been even happier and fatter somewhere on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Next time I need an Italian fix, I’ll search the boogie down for a bigger, thicker, more satisfying pecorino.
Cacio e Vino
80 2nd Avenue, East Village
Subway: 2nd Ave. (F train) or Bleeker (6 train) or Astor Pl. (6 train)