Dining Out: Bina Osteria
Then come primi, the category most people hunger for in Italian restaurants: the pastas. Here’s where Konefal’s French training made me especially nervous, as anyone who’s tasted flat, gluey Bolognese in a Parisian bistro trying to go lusty will understand. Yet the must-have Bina primo, gnocchi ($17 for a half portion, $29 for a full), is from a secret recipe originally by the Swiss god Frédy Girardet and learned by Konefal at Eleven Madison Park, the French-technique restaurant he worked at before going to the even French-er L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. And it’s almost pure butter. Italians simply bind mashed potatoes with eggs to make dough for tiny dumplings; this recipe is what Konefal describes as a warm "emulsified dough," served with a mounted butter sauce. The chef adds Meyer lemon to cut the richness, and chorizo, calamari, and clams for some texture—but you’ll ignore them, because those gnocchi are miraculously light, and no matter how many you eat you want more.
Other homemade pastas aren’t as memorable, though. The spaghetti carbonara ($15/$27), with house-cured pancetta and a nice slow-cooked egg, features a pecorino foam that’s salty and cheesy and decidedly unpersuasive. And Konefal’s reach can exceed his grasp in the mains, as in the lobster tail ($31) treated like a pork roast, wrapped in lardo and seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and thyme, the meat salty and barely recognizable.
Meats are Konefal’s territory (fish was undercooked and bland, vegetables were perfunctory), and the two exceptional entrées share tender, moist meat and marvelous crisp skin: crispy suckling pig confit ($33) and a variation on chicken Marsala ($29). The confit, a pressed square of young pig slowly cooked in duck fat and topped with a flat crackling, is pretty fabulous excess. And the chicken is essence of fowl and mushrooms, with cipollini purée heightening the sweetness of reduced Marsala.
Desserts, by Paola Fioravanti, Konefal’s wife, are a bit too new-wave for my taste, but some of them are original and good, particularly the hazelnut ice cream with a chocolate Kit Kat–like wafer ($11) and a moscato mousse ($11) made from the fizzy Piedmont wine, with orange sorbet and crushed-sumac meringue. Like much of the lineup at Bina Osteria, the moscato mousse is an odd mix of familiar and not. And, as with the other high points of the menu, when you go along for the ride you can be carried away.