In a town possessing an embarrassment of Italian food riches, for me the new Serena Pastifico has catapulted to the top of our Mount Olympus. Located in the sensational reboot of Colony Square in midtown, this place rang every important bell for me—food, service, design and energy.
Self-park (free with validation, avoid paying the exorbitant $10-$15 valet fee) and walk up into the freshly-minted courtyard which sits between the original two buildings of the complex. It feels like a small hipster hamlet back there —skyscrapers up above, spongy artificial turf, floating daybeds, and Adirondack chairs. And there, next to the movie theatre and Politan Row food court, serenely sits Serena Pastificio, the "neighborhood joint" in hipsterville.
Inside, the dining room feels modern and airy with light, unstained walnut tones, casual, comfortable furniture and in the back, a ceiling adorned with hanging translucent leaves made of glass. A full bar occupies the center of the room, subdividing areas and creating pockets of intimacy. The energy is warm and palpable as if the patrons are ready for a show.
Pastificio translates into "pasta factory," which is literally what you see as you enter the dining room: a glassed-in booth by the hostess stand where pasta makers assemble the delectable carbs—linguini, tenette, gnocchetti, spaghetti, risotto, ravioli and fettuccine among others. The pasta room acts as an open kitchen, where you can observe your meal in its pre-boil infancy. If you've never had fresh-made pasta, it is one thing in life where you can unequivocally tell the difference. The pasta at Serena is ethereal and savory, almost a dessert in its smooth texture.
The rest of the menu items delivered as well—the sea bass, the little neck clams with linguini, the grilled octopus, and the veal ricotta meatballs all honored tried-and-true preparation, each with a little twist that made it memorable. The octopus came with small confit tomatoes giving a little acid kick to the soft seafood; the seabass was pan-roasted and crispy on the outside, fluffy and buttery on the inside; and the meatballs, in particular, were extra special—a blend of veal, pork, and meat with the ricotta cheese cooked inside giving it a sweet, silky finish you don't often find in a honking ball of meat.
The cocktails and wine I tried were all on point (for sure try the Gattopardo and Italian Margarita) and for dessert you'll be hard-pressed to choose between the lemon tart with vanilla meringue, the classic tiramisu, or the chocolate mousse bomb, a mound of creamy dark chocolate with an almond cookie base finished with a bright, shiny piece of gold leaf on top. If you are like me you will choose them all and then drift off blissfully into your food coma.
Yes, I made an absolute pig of myself and I reveled in every artery-clogging moment of it. It's 2021, in many ways more of a mess than 2020, and through all the toxicity, distractions, and disruption it's inspiring to see a new restaurant emerge with a lofty vision and then seemingly effortlessly deliver upon it. Whereas most surprises these days are of the negative variety, Serena Pastifico is a delightful surprise many of us can use right about now. In short, a slice of Italian serenity the city very much needed.