Walking into a restaurant with a French-sounding name like Allegretti, you might take a look at the menu and think, What’s with all the pasta? Tagliatelle, risotto, garganelli—the menu is rife with Italian goodies. And while Chef Alain Allegretti is in fact French, he’s not undergoing an identity crisis. He’s from Southern France, and the area’s cuisine is full of Italian influence. In case you slept through European history class like, well, everyone, the city of Nice was actually an Italian dominion as late as 1860. This means there was plenty of time for the chefs of the area to hone their skills at the pasta press.
The moral of this historic story? Well, there’s no moral. There’s just good food for us, as evidenced by the ravioli that are coming out of allegretti’s kitchen. The restaurant’s Niois Ravioli takes the hybrid French-Italian city as its namesake, and these little culinary melting-pot pastas showcase all the good stuff that the French Riviera has to offer.
The secret is in the stuffing. These puppies are filled with braised oxtail, stewed for hours with an aromatic mix until it’s tender enough to melt any geographic stereotypes about cooking. Parmesan cheese, a squeeze of orange juice and Swiss chard all make their way underneath the dough, which is prepared in-house at least twice a week. The pasta shells are kept thin, which avoids overpowering the meaty mix on the inside. The finished ravioli are sprinkled with orange for a bit of sweetness, doused with beef jus and served on a bed of Swiss chard.
It may be one of the most clichéd truisms in the kitchen, but these really are like grandma used to make. Allegretti credits his dear old grand-mere for the authentic recipe, which she developed while living in a mountain town in the hills of France. Of course, he has added his own touches to the plate: “I like the idea of my grandmother’s dishes, but as a chef I’ve twisted it to make it upscale, at my level,” he says.
And good thing grandma wasn’t too picky about her meat. While oxtail isn’t among the choicest cuts available at the butcher shop, the high fat content in the hind part makes for a succulent ravioli stuffing. Those that frequent Midtown food carts might be used to this ingredient, but folks looking for a more upscale experience shy away from tail. In addition to stuffing a good ravioli, Allegretti is seeking to destigmatize tail meat. He wants “to show American people that you don’t have to be afraid of oxtail. It’s actually a real good thing to eat. The name alone is scary. When you have it in your mouth, you don’t have to think that it’s ox.”
When you have the Niois Ravioli in your mouth, you definitely won’t be thinking about a loafing beast. You’ll be asking yourself how anyone can pack such flavor into a small pasta shell. Yes, those who eat at those carts might be used to paying bottom dollar to feast on oxtail, but the prices here are still reasonable enough at $18 for a smaller serving and $22 for the large. It might be pricey, but certainly even Grandma would approve.
>>Allegretti 46 W. 22nd St. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.), 212-206-0555.