The Italian countryside is what comes to mind when you dine at Fabio Piccolo Fiore, as there are white walls painted with dainty red flowers. As you walk further inside, the feeling shifts to that of the Renaissance, with replicas of Raphael, Da Vinci hanging on the walls. The replicas are a bit too big for my taste, but the blend of Old World Italy and an upscale contemporary vibe make up for it.
Piccolo Fiore is an old Italian song in which the singer asks “Why are you going around the world when you have someone who loves you here?” And that is exactly the feeling you get while watching Chef Fabio Hakill as he welcomes his customers and makes sure that they are happy. You can see his pride and passion as he talks about food, and yet he exhibits humility while talking to his customers. He told me that he loves to make people happy, and that quality food and atmosphere are important elements for a successful meal.
If it is not on the menu, do not hesitate to ask. Chef Fabio (ex Il Caminetto and Il Matriciano in Rome before making his way to the famous Parkside Restaurant in Queens) will make it. He gives his customers personalized service by going off the menu.
Although very artistic and creative in its presentation, the food is real and down to earth. It is straight forward, no nonsense with quality ingredients, and a focus on the lighter, fresher flavors typical of Tuscany and Abruzzi. The style is simple, natural, and leaves you satiated without a feeling of heaviness.
Abruzzo/Abruzzi is located in the middle of the eastern coast of Italy with its highest mountain peaks, the Gran Sasso, which is rich with nature. Just across from the mountains lies a beautiful coastal stretch along the Adriatic Sea. It has one of the best traditional culinary schools in Italy, Villa Santa Maria, is known as the homeland of cooks.
At Fabio Piccolo Fiore there is a variety of fabulous Abruzzi and Tuscan dishes. A must-try is the Chef’s pasta. I have traveled around the world many times and have been to Italy so many times, yet I have never seen this before—The Pasta a la Chef—fettucini with porcini mushrooms poured in and scraped from the inside, a wheel of Grana Padano cheese, and smothered with white truffle sauce. The cheese has a bit more fat than the Reggiano, is easier to work with, and has a sharper taste. You can actually smell the cheese while it is being prepared by your table. It is incredible with very intense flavors and the mushrooms are cooked to perfection. Any wine from that region will go well with it; one recommendation would be a full-bodied Piedmont or Barbera de Alba.
We then had the baby arugula salad with oranges, tomatoes, and olive oil followed by the main courses. The fish was so fresh. I had the grilled Branzino fish with lemon and rosemary. It is imported from Italy, and is accompanied by roasted potatoes and other vegetables. A wine connoisseur will definitely have a Fume Blanc with this. My friend had the oven-roasted Chilean sea bass covered with wine and caper sauce. On the side we had the grilled artichoke imported from Puglia, Italy. All were delicious and served just right.
At last, I had experienced a meal that felt just like home—simple and without complications.
There was little to no room for dessert, but Chef Fabio insisted that we try some. We had the warm chocolate cake made out of three different kinds of chocolate and cacao, the fresh crepe with melted gianduia chocolate and strawberries and the most amazing cucumber gelato. Usually, I do not eat desserts, but I indulged in these—they were fabulous and I highly recommend them.
THE VERDICT: A very warm and welcoming place at a very reasonable price.
A four-course meal (anti pasta, pasta, main course, and dessert) without wine ranges between $56 and $100.
Fabio Piccolo Fiore is located at 230 East 44th Street. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from noon to10:30 p.m., Fridays from noon to11:00 p.m. Saturdays: 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
For more information on private parties and reservations, please call (212) 922-0581 or visit http://www.fabiopiccolofiore.com.