Dining With Moira Hodgson

Frantic Friday Night,

Table-Tussling at Bivio

It’s a good thing I visit a restaurant more than once before writing a review. Bivio is a new Italian trattoria located in the far West Village (near the meatpacking district). The proprietors are Daniel Emerman and Alessandro Prosperi, who also own Bottino, the popular artists’ hangout in Chelsea (as well as the late, lamented Barocco in Tribeca). Their new place has already attracted an art-world clientele sporting black and gray Comme des Garçons outfits and brush-cut hair.

The first time I came here for dinner-a Friday night-the restaurant was out of control. The evening began with an argument with the host. He insisted that I’d booked a table for two; I insisted that I’d booked it for four (and, moreover, had called that afternoon to make it five). He then kept saying, “But we have a table for you for two,” and I kept saying, “But I booked for five.” And so it went on, back and forth, as though we were rehearsing a dialogue from the “In the Restaurant” section of a foreign-language phrasebook.

Miraculously, a table for five was produced, right by a collection of Sol LeWitt drawings, a series of small, framed squares of white paper with lines on them, arranged to form a large rectangle on the wall. We sat down and waited. And waited, and waited. We spent the next half-hour waving and craning our necks, trying to attract the attention of a waiter. Any waiter. One of my friends, who was desperate for a drink, even waylaid the busboy as he put down a basket of bread on the table. “Could we order some wine?”

“No,” replied the busboy, without missing a beat. “You have to ask a waiter.”

Fair enough. But where was the waiter? Meanwhile, the dining room, badly understaffed, was now full. And coming right from the next table was that horrible, shrieking female voice-the one I seem to encounter every time I go into a noisy restaurant. I won’t go on anymore about that exhausting evening, which included three raucous birthday parties and lasted over three hours. The food, in fact, was pretty good, but if I didn’t have a job to do, dear reader, I would not have gone back.

I’m glad I did. On a weeknight, Bivio can be as relaxed and pleasant as it is loud and hectic on the weekend. The welcome this time around was warm, and the service was not only friendly-it was efficient. Since the concept behind Bivio is a wine bar, there’s an interesting choice of boutique wines (many of them by the glass) and a menu of small plates to be shared, in addition to main courses. One wall of the dining room is a blackboard with specials of the day chalked on, along with a list of charcuterie such as prosciutto di Parma, speck, duck prosciutto, bresaola and Italian cheeses.

Bivio’s L-shaped dining room, designed by architect Hassan Abouseda, is sleek and minimalist, done up in black and silver; the circular bar is covered in a shiny skin of metallic scales. Picture windows lined with lace curtains run along two sides of the room, which also features persimmon-colored banquettes and polished zebra-wood tables. The restaurant fills up late, but on my second visit, even though every table was taken, it wasn’t uncomfortably noisy. Perhaps it was those birthday parties that did the place in on my earlier Friday visit.

The food at Bivio is straightforward and simple; attention is paid to fresh ingredients of high quality. You can begin by sharing a plate of fried calamari, hot and crisp, albeit in a rather thick batter, or a plate of tuna tartare, de rigueur even in an Italian restaurant these days, cut in chunks and tossed in sesame oil with ginger and watercress. Asparagus is cooked au gratin, topped with prosciutto and parmigiano, and roasted artichoke has a bread stuffing; it’s good and garlicky. There are several kinds of bruschetta, too (the one topped with the woolly tomatoes shouldn’t be on the menu this time of year). Salads include a sprightly mix of fennel, arugula and slivers of parmigiana with blood oranges, and endive and watercress with pomegranate and a generous hunk of a creamy Gorgonzola.

One of the best dishes on the menu (and one that’s surprisingly hard to get right in a restaurant) is the roast chicken; it’s moist and juicy, and served with peppers, grape tomatoes, white wine, herbs and excellent roast potatoes. Those potatoes alone are worth a trip to Bivio: golden-brown and seasoned with fried sage leaves and garlic. They come with the herb-encrusted rack of lamb (which, alas, arrived medium, because the person who ordered it forgot to specify) and can also be ordered as a side dish. I also recommend the whole roasted branzino, which was perfectly cooked and served with olive oil, herbs and lemon, and the wild Alaskan king salmon with a robust salsa verde.

Desserts include a lovely, frothy tiramisu, pears poached in white wine and served with zabaglione, and a decent chocolate hazelnut tart.

I ended up liking Bivio. On that dreaded Friday, as we were leaving, the host did apologize for the confusion over our table. And I’m sorry, too. I should’ve known better than to eat at a hot new restaurant on a Friday night.