When you first walk into Numero 28 (1431 1st Ave., at 75th St., numero28.com) on the Upper East Side, you wouldn’t guess it’s only a couple of months old. The setting feels warm and inviting, with rustic wooden tables, exposed brick walls, candlelight, a cozy brick pizza oven and a grandmother walking around and checking on tables.
Don’t worry, she isn’t lost, she’s nonna Eugenia, the matriarch of Numero 28 and grandmother of the Biamonte clan, who run a few Numero 28 locations. When the matron isn’t fussing over guests and bringing them baskets of the restaurant’s fresh and warm foccocia, you can find her in the kitchen with chef Ramon Duran, whipping up her famous veal and pork meatballs ($9). The dense meatballs come three to plate coated in a light, sweet tomato sauce, the perfect mate for a hearty slice of the parmigiana di melanzane, the restaurant’s small plate version of eggplant parmesan ($9).
Also off the appetizer menu, try the cool and creamy bufala, a fresh buffalo mozzarella that comes with a pile of melty prosciutto ($18). If you order the bruschetta ($8), be warned it’s a little different than usual; it was served on a large, rectangular pieces of flatbread cut in six pieces, laden high with your choice of either mouthwatering marinated mushrooms or a combination of large pieces of sweet artichoke, pesto and diced tomato.
The name Numero 28 comes from the restaurant’s first location at 28 Carmine St. in the West Village. Just like its sister restaurants, the latest venture cooks up an array of traditional pasta dishes and Neapolitan pies, bringing their cuisine to an area that, while rich in chains and pizza-by-the-slice shops, lacks a romantic, sit-down place to eat real Italian food.
Classic dishes include lasagna di carne ($16), your typical lasagna with béchamel and a homemade meat sauce; penne boschetto, which comes abound with mushrooms, truffle oil and smoky speck ($15); and freshly made ravioli with ricotta and spinach in a heavenly butter and sage sauce ($16).
While the appetizers and pasta proved worthwhile, the real star of Numero 28 is their pizza. You can order the pies in three sizes ($10-$37): the personal 14-inch, 18-inch, or the Roman-style slab of pizza that runs over two feet, at 29 inches.
We tried it with the signature numero 28, the francesina and the bianca del diavolo. The latter proved the heartiest of the bunch, loaded with mozzarella, fluffy ricotta, and thick disks of zesty pepperoni. On the francesina, they added brie to the mozzarella and speck combination, an odd concept at first that in the end worked to give more heft to the lighter cheese and cut the smokiness of the meat.
For a classic pie, try the plain cheese, which is actually a margarita—but as general manager and partner Luigi Porceddu explained in his heavy accent, the staff is so Italian that when people ordered “cheese pizza,” they got confused and instead made them their five formaggi, which comes with mozzarella, gorgonzola, fontina, parmesan and provolone.
Unlike the other Numero 28s, this one offers a full bar with innovative cocktails such as the Montenegroni, a fresh take on the negroni, and the Tartufone, a mixture of pear-infused vodka, grapefruit juice and white truffle oil. The dessert menu (all $7) is basic Italian fare, like semifreddo al pistachio and pannacotta, but even if you are completely full, you shouldn’t miss out on their light, silky tiramisu, which comes with coffee-saturated ladyfingers and will disappear before you know it.
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