Almost everybody is calling Misi, the latest endeavor from the chef Missy Robbins, a pasta restaurant. That’s not quite right.
Yes, Ms. Robbins has given half of her menu over to long noodles and short ones; strands of linguine with chopped garlic and a double dose of fish in the form of chopped anchovies and drizzled colatura; circles filled with ricotta whipped until it is as soft as cream; pinched rings of tortelli stuffed with mascarpone and spinach; the deeply ridged Sardinian shells known as malloreddus; and other Italian marvels of starch formation.
True, anybody who has been to Ms. Robbins’s other restaurant, Lilia, also located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, knows that the pasta there reliably steals the show from everything else on the table. When those people show up at Misi, odds are good that they will not have chosen that day to start a keto diet.
Moreover, Misi has a greater variety of pasta than Lilia, so many that the architecture makes space for them. Misi is across the street from the old Domino refinery on the East River, where the cranes used to unload sugar from barges in the open air so that on days when the wind was right you could taste it on your tongue a mile away. Next to the dining room, facing the factory’s remains, is a separate, glassed-in workshop where the temperature and humidity are kept at consistent dough-friendly levels. There, the long noodles, etc., are rolled out and cut long before 5:30 each night, when Misi’s front door is unlocked and the crowd waiting in line for walk-in seats begins to snake eagerly forward.
And to be sure, if you watch Ms. Robbins and her kitchen crew at the end of one of two long dining counters, you’ll see the same quick motion over and over: an almost surreptitiously quick trip of hand to mouth, a sharp bite and an appraising chew to decide if that batch of pasta is ready to be pulled from the water. Some chefs show their mastery over pasta by pressing it thinner than a screen protector for an iPhone. Ms. Robbins likes hers to have body and heft, and the chew test is the most reliable way to tell when thick pasta like that is ready. You are very unlikely to get a piece that is undercooked at its core, or one that doesn’t fight back enough to let you know it is still alive.
You get this just-in-between texture in the stubs of mezze rigatoni with a simple, glossy, ripe tomato sauce that’s been stewed with whole garlic cloves — 30 to a batch, according to the menu. You get it again in the corzetti, discs about the diameter of a Red Bull can that are pressed with a wooden stamp to give them a target pattern. In October, Misi served these ridged coins with another tomato sauce, this one barely cooked, just some Sungold tomatoes warmed until they broke open and their yellow pulp spilled out. Fresh basil, thyme and chervil were scattered over the top, as good an illustration as any of how Ms. Robbins makes her food stand out without deviating from an Italian reliance on simple, unmanipulated ingredients.
But to call Misi a pasta restaurant would be to overlook its highly impressive work with vegetables. They are the subject of the menu’s other half, sneakily headlined “antipasti.”
This is where you will find a globe eggplant roasted until it is as soft and easy to spread as cream cheese; the cut surfaces are dressed with Calabrian chiles, and the taste of lemon juice seems to have found its way to the center of the eggplant. There are fleshy and firm chanterelles, too, lightly pickled and preserved in olive oil until they’re brought to the table crisscrossed with rosemary needles. Grilled runner beans with garlic and chiles have been around lately, too, in a big heap that I would have enjoyed more if a few stringy, leathery beans had not gotten past the inspectors in the kitchen.
Like the pastas, Misi’s vegetables tend to bring together only a few ingredients, often applied in ways you don’t quite expect. I don’t know where else you will taste pistachios and anchovies combined with skinny, leaf-bud-green leeks marinated in vinegar, or a kind of panzanella made with grilled bread, capers, fresh oregano and chunks of zucchini that are still tender after a quick poaching in olive oil. And though the gently roasted tomatoes won’t come back to the menu until next summer, you can try imagining how their dusting of fennel seeds and cracked coriander seeds responds to a last-minute squirt of spicy honey.
There are enough of these vegetables, and enough meatless pastas, that a vegetarian could eat extremely well at Misi just by watching out for things like bottarga and staying away entirely from the creamy pork sugo tossed with strangozzi. (Meat eaters, on the other hand, may find the sugo helps restore chafed nerves.)
Although Misi doesn’t let its kitchen range as widely as Lilia’s, it is a more successful restaurant in several ways. The menu has been distilled down to essentials, and the whole enterprise seems more carefully thought through.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of a new apartment building by SHoP Architects, who chose to leave a hole in the middle that you could fly a helicopter through. The developer, Two Trees, recruited Ms. Robbins and her business partner, Sean Feeney, and gave them a chance to build the virgin space to their needs. The acoustics are better than at Lilia, and traffic between tables flows more smoothly. The interior is unusually good, with narrow horizontal wall tiles in white and nooks for stacked plates that make them part of the décor.
As at Lilia, the wine list practically begs you to take something new for a whirl: a catarratto from Sicily, a Corsican niellucciu, or a croatina-ughetta blend from Lombardy softened with some uva rara. Of course, you could stick to a $45 Lambrusco, or get a $250 Champagne from David Léclapart, after which you can try flying through the hole in the building yourself.
If we are striving for total accuracy, though, we need to call Misi a pasta-vegetables-and-gelato restaurant. Its gelato is made in house; there are about six kinds at any given moment. The flavors open up right away, in part because Misi serves them just below the melting point and in part because the ingredients are used prodigally. There are a lot of almonds in the almond, and the espresso could keep you up an extra hour. But even the unflavored fior di latte, made with milk, cream and sugar, comes at you in a rush.
There are no desserts other than gelato. The only decision to make at the end of the night is which one you’re going to have.
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