Is Bar Pitti Basic? And If So, Does It Even Matter?
Our resident foodie and writer, Jayson Buford, weighs in.
Jayson Eats is a monthly dining column that rates and recounts the food at New York's little-known spots.
What constitutes something as basic? When you walk from the West 4th A/B/D/F train stop, past the narrow streets to wider ones, over to Bar Pitti, an Italian restaurant with outdoor seating and a blackboard that tells you what the special are, you might be wondering what makes something simple, and whether this popular spot is that haunting word: basic.
These days, for me, what is posh and bombastic is where I am going. Food culture, because of the dearly departed Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain, dived into hole in the wall taco spots, or fiercely cultural restaurants for the unheralded. And that has yielded mostly positive results, even if people now act like they care about those places without even understanding or knowing the people who birthed said unrecognized spots. Conceptualizing those places as food that should be considered mainstream and available for even the wealthy was a no brainer and genius; now, suddenly, you can’t read restaurant reviews in the New York Times without it coming to a neighborhood that Giulaini tried to obliterate with his policy. It changed America for the better. Now, people knew where Gloria’s in Crown Heights was because of Tony and his TV specials, and it gave shine to Michael K. Williams and his beautiful community that already know what it was before the white gaze. To see that is to see that slippery word: progress.
But that’s not exactly how I am feeling anymore. A change, a good or bad one depending on who you ask, went through my reactive mind. I will always go for soul food, Dominican food, or some Nigerian food, but I’ve been very bougie — and not the bougie that black people know primitively. But rather, a bougie that is given I ought to think about more. I’ve been eating like Samantha Jones circa 2001. I’ve come back in a Manhattan mode, the borough where I was raised to aim high and dream big. Manhattan spots have afforded me a different sense of what it means to be an adult with distinct and pleasurable taste.
Don’t get me wrong — because the hole in the wall is where Big once took Carrie, and where I have taken a few wonderful wonders — I go to those spots, but the posh is back en vogue, especially for date nights. Contrary to the Brooklyn boonies, the sleek ambience is definitely worth paying for. Le Rock, despite its tasty beef bison, wouldn’t be what it is if not for the space between the tables, and the high ceilings. Right now, big is better, and expensive is a load from your account, but an experience nevertheless. So, usually, when I go out to dinner, the Resy app is being used, and the bill is rarely under 60 dollars.
Bar Pitti is on this list of places that I go to for dinner dates, and it is pricey, but it is also quite ordinary, with its walls of photos and outdoor seating. (When it comes to restaurants, you can argue Bar Pitti is the epitome of the pleasantness of outdoor seating. It is the best for people watching). The place takes cash only, and cash is cooler than debit or credit cards. That sheer feeling of opening up a wad of bills is just under the act of getting paid. There’s a reason why gangster movies feature cash not cards.
Still, once again, is Bar Pitti basic? It shouldn’t shock you that this question is available for answers. Slide to that restaurant, and it isn’t uncommon to find dozens of glamorous and transplanted white women on dates, older people that are lucky to live in the village, and tourists that saw it pop up on Google Maps. When Bar Pitti was taken from the dreams of Giovanni Tognozzi and inserted in the Rich Apple — my term for the West Village — for capital gain, it was a hit. After all, this is 30 years of a thriving business that is still around for us to write about. But lately, I wondered, after an offhand comment from someone I know about Bar Pitti, if this place was a beacon of relatively affordable luxury or basic comfort.
Despite my appreciation for the food, the chalkboard — an acceptable gimmick — or the fact that any woman who lives in Manhattan will come to Bar Pitti, something about it screams faux elegant. Family comes because it also has a neighborhood vibe; the colors aren’t vibrant; it is not very trendy on TikTok, or an example of the power of the youth — both positive and negative. For yuppies, even a broke such as myself, live for the rush of new restaurant appearances; the meal, despite its general importance, takes a backseat to the emotional weight we feel when we see a nice place. That means it might be a solid night from the exhaustion of survival.
The food remains strong, as it always will be. Be sure to get the pasta with clams, or the spaghetti with pesto. (The menu is not in English. Make sure the waiter explains if you are bad at deciphering the romance languages). The clams are small but tasty, and the 30 dollar meal will fill your stomach if you're a big man like me. If you’re feeling quite adventurous, then split a coda and a chicken with your friend. You won’t end up in a maze when you order here. Bar Pitti’s menu is like the Nascar race: a constant loop of efficiency. The desert is fun too, albeit not quite as rich as the dinner menu. I’ve gotten the tiramisu twice, and when my date fed it to me, the fact that she fed it to me was more noteworthy than the cake itself.
So, does the restaurant’s reputation as a classic New York spot really hold up? Will anyone who doesn’t want children come here once their career truly rockets? I’m not sure. But I guarantee you that I will be back for the rivioli or the linguine. The bottle of white wine doesn’t hurt too; last date I had there, I was most certainly glad to split a bottle and have two glasses. It ended up being a 250 dollar bill. Sometimes, basic is pricey. Next, I am going to go to the Taylor Swift concert.