More often than not, I derive more satisfaction from food that faithfully sticks to the culinary tradition and influence, partly because it is not as easy as it sounds to pull off “fusion”-style food that attempts to disrupt the existing paradigms. Chef Dale Talde has seemingly done a very nice job with his “inauthentic Asian” style dishes although I have yet to visit his eponymous restaurant in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. When his team decided to expand their horizon to the realm of Italian cuisine at a brand new midtown hotel in Manhattan, I was somewhat skeptical but still wanted to give it a shot given my love for Italian food. As my trip to Italy last year showed, Italian food is often done best when it stays simple. Will chef Talde’s latest project make me think there are smart ways to make some playful tweaks to this cuisine? My experience on recent weekend dinner had too many misses to convince me otherwise.
The menu at Massoni consists of a variety of starters, pastas, pizzas and larger dishes. My girlfriend and I met up with another couple for dinner at Massoni, so we had an opportunity to try a bunch. I immediately saw from some of the dishes’ plating that the kitchen does seem to have a lot of creative ideas. For instance, beef tartare inside pistachio cannoli was done quite cleverly and I really enjoyed the nice texture of the raw beef that combined with the sensation of pistachio for delightful bites. On the other hand, consistency was a significant issue for some other dishes. Biryani rice balls and spicy tomato sauce to form a fusion take on arancini was serviceable, but the fritto misto of calamari, grapes, lemon and pastrami spiced aioli had such overwhelmingly strong seasoning that I had to give up after a couple of bites.
The inconsistency was even more prominent in pasta and pizza sections. I actually quite enjoyed both pastas we had ordered. Squid ink pappardelle with crab alla vodka was the best dish of the night with very rich but not overly heavy flavor, and the spaghetti with meatballs also had a hearty feel to it. On the other hand, both pizzas we had ordered were major disappointments. The flavor of the pie with spicy sausage, peppers and onions with side ranch on the side somehow didn’t add up, and despite the promising outlook, the charred Brussels sprouts pizza with pistachio pesto and ricotta salata was simply overcooked to the point where it was hard to proceed after a couple of bites. Even the desserts were a mixed bunch. I actually liked the sundae quite a lot (although my sweet tooth girlfriend didn’t quite approve), but snickers cannoli, despite the playful attempt at molding snickers ice cream into cannoli form, didn’t have the punch it needed. Overall, this was a meal where I couldn’t find strong points; I liked the novelty of some dishes, but the execution throughout seemed to be lacking with a singular focus.
Getting a reservation wasn’t too difficult, although the dining space was nearly packed with young and handsome crowds during our meal. There is full bar with Italian-centric wine selections to complement your meal. The dining space has a weirdly hip vibe inside the hotel where it was hard to find what type of audience the restaurant was really targeting. Massoni was by no means a bad place, but as someone who deeply respects the beauty of simplicity in Italian cuisine, I couldn’t say I was a fan of a somewhat halfhearted attempt at playing with the food from this beautiful country, and not necessarily in the most satisfying way.
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 7.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 7.0/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
Address: 11 East 31st Street, New York, NY 10016
Telephone: (212) 951-1141