Weird & Wonderful: Angelo Romano at Rocky Slims
There’s some magic happening in Murray Hill. Words I never thought I’d utter, but here I am, muttering them to anyone who will listen.
Last Wednesday I dined at Rocky Slims and had my mind blown by chef Angelo Romano’s eccentric, deft Italian food. Although his prowess would be evident in any environment, it’s particularly awe-inspiring here. Let’s start with the name: for me “Rocky Slims” conjures up images of Uma doing a line of blow in the bathroom, $5 milk shakes and Twist contests (okay, that’s “Jack Rabbit Slims,” but you get my drift). Yet in the 25th Street and Third Avenue restaurant, instead of a dance floor, there’s a flat screen TV above the bar. So is it a Sports Bar? No…because generally Sports Bars serve cheese fries and nachos (or so I’m told) and don’t have red tiled ovens in the middle of their open kitchens, besides which a dozen persimmons hang, drying, being massaged daily by their inventive, free-spirited chef.
“When you cut into it, it should be nice and gelatinous inside,” he said as he placed the persimmon in front of us. Heart-shaped and slightly contracted, within there was indeed sweet, perfumed natural confiture that oozed onto the plate, caramelized with its own sugars. Combined with a smear of La Tur cheese (goat x cow x sheep), rich olive oil and a fragrant Tonka bean dust, it was an exercise in restraint, the chef’s faith in the 4 excellent ingredients and the decadent reward they supply.
The same finesse was demonstrated by shishito peppers (which are seemingly a requisite on all menus of a certain ilk right now), but Angelo wraps his in lardo that turns translucent when it touches their hot skins and serves them with a dollop of rich fig “butter.” This is my favorite kind of cooking: where the menu descriptors and even the visual presentation undersell and the experience of each bite over-delivers.
Rustically cut Wagyu beef tartare with anchovy oil, treviso tips and goat whey-fermented turnip and pineapple vinegar was clean & bright, showing off the flavors of the meat. Roasted butternut and sweet potato were served in a shallow pool of “egg nog”–a creamy, nutty sauce befitting of the season–with blanched water chestnuts that Angelo shocked in icy almond milk and vinegar, and a dusting of cured egg yolk atop. Angelo’s dishes have that “Why didn’t I think of that?” quality, or “Okay, I never could have thought of that, yet it makes perfect sense!”
The next round was total urbane-hippie-mad-scientist experimentation (in the best possible way). Guinea hen bone broth had strands of coconut floating in it, giving a pleasant bite, was dusted with Burgundy truffle and served with a glass of the coconut water (from the coconut used in the broth). Playful. Kind of funny. Luxurious. Wonderful.
Angelo’s been dry aging Guinea hens in his walk in for a couple of weeks. The bird, as he prepped it for roasting, was the gorgeous purple and pinks of an L.A. sunset. When he served it, simply, with preserved lemon juice and sea salt that enhanced the crisp skin and moist, tender meat, it was yet another revelation, a reminder of something so obvious that you cease to see it: all you need is a good bird, some patience, lemon & salt.
Sautéed wild mushrooms with prosciutto and whipped avocado was predictably my favorite dish of the night. A bit more obvious perhaps, but irresistibly bright and earthy, salty and light all at once. House-made hand-rolled pici pasta with Guinea heart and liver ragout was remarkably un-offal-y and refined (guessing he perfected his pasta game when he cooked at Lupa). And the pizza was fantastic (no surprise there after his time at Roberta’s).
So what is this place, you might be asking? Can you have an experience like the one I’ve just described? The answer is yes. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Angelo offers tasting menus for in-the-know diners who are clever enough to spend $65 for a meal he describes as “Long, weird and hopefully awesome.”
You may have college kids naïve of the chef’s pedigree on your right and an older couple fascinated by his cooking on your left, but, Pals, you heard it here (belatedly and respectfully): Angelo’s food at Rocky Slims is weird…and it’s freaking wonderful!
Rocky Slims, 338 Third Avenue (at 25th Street), rockyslims.com, 212. 889.4663
They’re also open for lunch and brunch, there’s a slice shop next door and they deliver.