by Dominick Recine
I wandered into all’onda, restaurateur Chris Cannon and chef Chris Jaeckle’s new restaurant in the East Village, on a recent Sunday evening around 8 p.m., reservation-less. Greeted by a friendly hostess, my party was told that we could be seated immediately. I assumed it would relatively quiet, but was still surprised that there wasn’t a wait for a table, especially after seeing the restaurant’s second floor quite abuzz.
As we took our seats, I glanced at the décor: wrought iron, weathered wood finishes, and sleek tones of slate and navy gave a complimenting statement to the impending meal by executive chef Jaeckle, an alumn of Tabla, Eleven Madison Park, and Morimonto. Aside from all’onda’s tasteful design, which some may consider overused, it was nice to see the all-familiar décor done in an innovative way. A well-curated mix of old-school hip-hop played over the speakers to my enjoyment.
Having a few minutes to overlook the drink and wine menu, Jorge, our excellent waiter who explained the menu at length, made suggestions. The dinner menu is a cross between what I’d call contemporary Italian and high-end seafood. The title boasts “a modern Venetian Cuisine,” but, as an Italian, my expectations were met with some drawbacks, mainly with the snack portion of the menu. The aperitifs, a basil gimlet and All’onda spritz, were sublime. The wine list is extensive, however a glass of Barbera (the house red for $9 a glass) paired perfectly with the lumache—a snail-shaped pasta with aged duck ragu, treviso, and chocolate. A 2012 Pinot Noir from Oltrepo Pavese nicely complemented the risotto, too.
Ordering off the properly worded Venetian menu, we began with the cicchetti (a.k.a. savory snacks or side dishes). A crostini, soggy and mushy, lacked the toasty taste I like. Although the ricotta with butternut squash was great, a few slices of bread would have tied the dish together. The arancini were underwhelming—small fried balls of rice with Parmesan and truffle, where not much of the truffles’ flavor was present and the parmesan was pretty much absent.
We didn’t try any of the antipasti or crudi, so out came our main courses of the duck lumache and the risotto astice, the latter made with lobster, saffron, and fennel. After recently being in Milan, the risotto capital of Italy, I can with the utmost confidence say this is one of the best risotto dishes in Manhattan. Cooked perfectly and with just the right amounts of lobster and seasoning, it was velvety, smooth, and slightly rich. All over the world, you will find many places that will douse the risotto in cream or butter. Here it isn’t overly creamy. That lumache was perfectly cooked, and the duck ragu was done nicely, although the flavors were a touch bland. All of the ingredients were fresh, prepared just as you would expect in a modern Venetian kitchen.
Of course, there was room for desert. In fact, the olive oil cake—light and fluffy and with just enough of the lemon glee that accompanied it—was so good that I ordered another piece to take home with me. The chocolate tart was delicious, as well: rich, regal, and decadent. I’d recommend it to any chocoholic.
In Italian, “all’onda” means wave, and this is one wave I would definitely take the ride on again, next time sampling the more classic Venetian dishes of risi e bisi or the dorade, which were also suggested.