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Two Buca Yorkville expats are bringing Italian back to taco- and tapas-heavy College Street
Pass through the heavy, Game of Thrones doors, and you’ll swear you’ve entered a vintage Venetian tavern of nail head–trimmed chairs, country landscapes and solid crockery. The brass wall panels wouldn’t be out of place in a confessional booth, and dimmed sconces lend everything the glow of patina. But this trendy spot is the new home of chef Ryan Campbell and managersommelier Giuseppe Marchesini, both last of Buca Yorkville, the most lavish of Rob Gentile’s upmarket Italian restaurants. Il Covo is an anomaly: an Italian restaurant that doesn’t serve pizza or family-style plates of pasta. The specialty here is cicchetti, the Venetian equivalent of Spanish pinchos—grazing food best consumed while standing at a bar with a glass of wine. Campbell’s are fancier: golden-fried finger sandwiches of bay scallop and side stripe shrimp; a flower-shaped buffalo-ricotta-and-thyme dumpling in a hen’s broth so clear and intensely chickeny it would make most nonnas jealous; and tender brisket, slow-braised in a Calabrian licorice liqueur.
Vegetarians would cringe at my favourite dish: Campbell braises carrot spears in pork fat rendered from jamón ibérico, rests them on a clove-scented carrot emulsion, and finishes them off with toasted lentils and (more) pork. The menu includes a legend, in obeisance to our dietary-restrictive times, noting which dishes are made with nuts, lactose, wheat, shellfish, egg, pork, garlic, onion or black pepper. What else is left?
Downstairs is a hushed wine cellar stacked with interesting and exclusively Italian finds, like a pleasantly funky, unfiltered orange wine from Molise, and sweeter ones to complement a dainty espressoflavoured layered sponge cake. The wait staff is mostly Italian, too, as are many of the options in a list of honeys to pair, for a surcharge, with a selection of Italian cheeses. (This is, I believe, our city’s first restaurant with a honey upgrade.)
Everything is assured and polished—almost theatrically so—but also calculated: at the end of the meal, you’re presented with a miniature treasure chest, containing your not inconsequential bill.
Below: brasato di manzo, a hunk of beef brisket braised in a Calabrian licorice liqueur