Cooler weather is perfect time to visit Paprika
By Frank Angelino
Given the multitude of Italian eateries on the Lower East Side, its understandable that Cucina Italiana Paprika wants to stand out from the crowd.
We didnt want to use a typical Italian name, says partner Stefano Barbagallo, who runs the front of the casual trattoria. His partner and executive chef is Egidio Donagrandi who comes from the Lake Como area of northern Italy. Barbagallo has roots in Sicily, near Siracusa, so the partners have a broad view of Italian cooking.
Paprikas (as it has become known) menu has several unusual Alpine dishes, which work best in the cooler months. Donagrandi will prepare a popular antipasto that is eaten in rustic ski huts call sciatt piatto tipico Valtellinese, which is a lightly fried buckwheat dumpling filled with bitto cheese. Its a dish made for sharing. Another northern winter favorite is pizzacchieri Valtellinesi, a buckwheat pasta that is mixed with shredded Savoy cabbage, cheese and potatoes.
Currently, the chef prepares an imaginative dish that combines elements of northern and southern Italian cooking: eggplant parmigiana with pesto. A round of baked eggplant is set on top of a pesto sauce so that the complimentary flavors mingle with each bite. (The dish is a logical progression of traditional Italian cooking, in that eggplant parmigiana is frequently layered with basil leaves for added flavor.)
Warm octopus salad with potatoes and chives has all ingredients diced into small pieces with the potatoes acting as a neutral foil for the octopus. Theres sometimes available a Tuscan country toast topped with thin shavings of cured pork and sweet balsamic vinegar.
The chef excels with the house pastas. Potato gnocchi are very light and come with an excellent tomato sauce enlivened with proscuitto and sage. A frequent special is penne with shaved artichokes and pieces of tomato. Both of the pasta dishes were expertly sauced with a light hand that brought the flavors of all the ingredients to the fore.
Some of the other pastas worth trying are the braised veal ravioli with butter and sage; the rigatoni with an ox-tail ragu; fettucine with cream, asparagus, grapes and shrimp; and, a traditional Genovese way of making linguine with pesto, by adding thin sliced potatoes.
Entrees at Paprika receive as much attention as the pastas. A superior sea bass is delicately coated, roasted and served with an eggplant-zucchini caponata and clams. Homemade meatballs are substantial and served with Swiss chard and mashed potatoes. Another popular dish is the pan-seared shell steak with braised cipollotti, roasted potatoes with rosemary and a Cabernet reduction.
Desserts feature home made tiramisu and a pannacotta along with a very nice tartufo, with vanilla ice cream dusted with cocoa powder.
Paprika has about 45 seats and a dozen tables set in a white brick dining room. A sidewalk cafe has a few more tables. If Paprika had a mantra, it would be, Affordable food, no attitude. That view extends to Paprikas two dozen wines which are accessible in price, available by the glass, and feature such values as a Nu har Nero Davola from Sicily, a red wine which is quickly becoming justly appreciated.
For light dining there are half a dozen panini available, served on toasted focaccia with fillings such as bresaola, goat cheese, arugula and lemon.
Upcoming, says Barbagallo, are Twice monthly tasting dinners, where everyone at Paprika will be served the same tasting menu consisting of different ingredients such as porcini mushrooms, asparagus, or truffles with each dish paired with a different wine.