Local Bounty: December 21
Breakfast, Milanese Style
From left: Cornetti, Bomboloni, Tortino di Mele
Fans of Little Italy’s Bencotto on W. Fir St. are probably already making their way to its new next door sister restaurant Monello. Owners Guido Nistri and Valentina Di Pietro have turned this airy space into a Milanese-inspired eatery that opens for breakfast six days a week and continues on through lunch and dinner with a menu that Nistri says takes him back to his childhood and early adulthood, when he worked in the city for a bank.
I enjoyed lunch at Monello last week, starting with a snack of lupini beans. Take a small bite to loosen the skin before popping the fleshy bean inside in your mouth. I snacked on soft shreds of young lodigiano cheese freshly scraped with a sharp flexible steel band from a large wheel sitting by the kitchen. Then I munched on a variety of salames—coppa, felino, lardo, and prosciutto—using them to top slices of piadine, a Romagna flat bread that looks like a cross between pita and a tortilla. There was a chunk of lodigiano nero—a black-crusted lodigiano aged 36 months, reminiscent of parmigiano reggiano, but with a softer flavor profile. I kept going with a grilled octopus salad, the succulent “polipo” nestled in arugula, fennel, celery, and tomatoes; a dollop of white polenta topped with sautéed porcini mushrooms and ricotta, and then a duo of spaghetti—aglio, olio, peperoncino (pasta with garlic, olive oil, fresh Fresno peppers, and exquisite toasted bread crumbs) and carbonara, rich with bacon, pecorino, eggs, and a spike of black pepper.
Delicious, right? But, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the display at the bar. Impossibly decadent looking pastries made for breakfast but sold all day along with petite sandwiches—panini al latte, or stuffed mini bites. Finally, Nistri took me over to the display, pulled out a little sandwich, the “San Daniele and mozzarella,” with creamy mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and bitter arugula on a sweet, soft homemade roll. It was a perfect three bites. Then out came the pastries. I’ll describe each below. Yes, you can eat them there with a cup of freshly brewed Illy coffee, but they’re also available to be boxed up to take home, to a client meeting, or wherever you have the need to present Italian pastries that will impress or comfort. Like Christmas Eve?
These crescent rolls are shaped like French croissants but have a gentle softness to them that contrasts with the crisp flakiness of their French counterparts. They take three days to make and while you can eat them in their plain state, you can also get them filled with either vanilla custard (crema), chocolate custard (cioccolato), pistachio custard (pistachio), house-made orange and cinnamon jam, or house-made strawberry and prosecco jam. $4 apiece
You may be tempted to think of these as jelly donuts, but don’t say that to Nistri, who holds traditional American donuts in light regard. They remind me of sufganiot—donuts Israelis make to celebrate Hanukah. They’re round and not terribly sweet, if you discount the granules of sugar they’re coated with. Again, have them “naked” or have them filled with crema or whipped cream. $5 apiece
Tortino Di Mele
This little pastry was a real treat. You could describe it as an apple muffin, but it wouldn’t do the complexity of the flavors true justice. This traditional Milanese pastry is made from what Nistri describes as a “very simple grandma dough” of flour, eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and lemon and orange zest. Into it is folded small chunks of sweet apple and—here we go—raisins plumped from soaking in rum and water. Warm it up when you get it home and enjoy with a cup of espresso or tea. $4 apiece