Neapolitan Cookery Ready For Its Close-up
wood-burning oven provides savory flavors
by tom steele
i can't remember ever visiting a two-week-old restaurant that had its act so completely together. credit must be bestowed on tiella's co-owner mario coppola, whose hands-on management style results in a tightly run ship. and peppe castellano's neapolitan cookery is as authentic as it is intensely delicious.
the restaurant is set in a fairly narrow bricky space. golden italianate lighting emanates from rows of lovely lamps suspended from a black pressed-tin ceiling. the dining room seats about 30, and from the look of the crowd, the neighborhood is perfectly delighted to have tiella in its midst.
the succession of castellano's sunny flavors begins with especially soft and flavorful slices of fresh focaccia that arrive in a basket, with a cunning little pitcher of verdant first-pressed novella olive oil and a little dipping ramekin.
creamy rich stracchino, a cow's milk cheese from italy's hilly lombardy region, can be enjoyed either with speck (cold-smoked and dry-aged sliced pork) or black truffle shavings.
castellano has the smallest wood-burning oven in the city, fitted to his diminutive kitchen. the oven can reach 900 degrees, which explains why so many of his meats and fish have every drop of their juices seared inside.
roasted sea scallops are tender and moist, and given a wonderful pecorino di fossa crusting.
a friend told me that her favorite dish at tiella is risotto with lobster and pink grapefruit, a combination i certainly have never encountered. the dish is indeed triumphant, featuring perfectly cooked arborio rice. the confluence of pungent fruit and shellfish flavors is ameliorated by a showering of fresh dill.
a generous fillet of orata, a fine-fleshed sea bream found in the mediterranean, is roasted in a potato crust, then given a light lemon sauce and stabbed with a spear of fresh thyme.
tiella's veal scallops are the juiciest i've ever had, served under a melting of smoked mozzarella and partnered by an inverted ramekin of unusually tasty spinach.
lemony cheesecake is quite creamy, thanks to its roman sheep's milk base, but also quite light and studded with welcome fresh strawberries. and an airy lemon spongecake is tipsy with limoncello.
rarely-if ever-has a two-week-old been so ready for its close-up. i highly recommend that you make yourself among the first to discover tiella's many pleasures.
1109 first avenue,
between east 60th and 61st streets
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