2888 Broadway, New York NY 10025 (b/n 112th and 113th; map); 212-864-1143; camponyc.com
<!-- Related: Sezz Medi, Max SoHa
-->Service: Sloppy if well-meaning
Setting: A long narrow dining room with pleasant sidewalk seating
Compare It To: Gennaro, Celeste, Bianca
Cost: $35 for two courses, a glass of wine, tax, and tip
The neighborhood around Columbia University has never had a really good Italian restaurant. Yes, there's old school V & T for thick-crusted pizza and red-sauce Italian-American cooking; Max SoHa has let me down on more than one occasion; and Sezz Medi' has pretty good Neapolitan-inspired pizza, but I've never had anything else there that blew me away.
So I was psyched when I read about Campo, a new contemporary Italian restaurant with a chef, David Rotter, whose pedigree includes a stint at the late Vincent Scotto's fine restaurant, Gonzo.
The first time I tried the food I ordered a couple of grilled pizzas to go, a Margherita ($9.95), and one with meatballs and ricotta ($11.50), That turned out to be a serious error of judgment on my part. Alas, the crust was rather cardboardy in large part because it had cooled, so to be fair I decided to withhold judgment until I had one of Campo's pizza right off the grill.
So when we actually sat down for a meal at Campo I ordered the local heirloom tomato pizza (the restaurant is committed to serving as much local and organic food as possible), which when presented looked like a salad on a piece of flatbread. Alas, the crust was no better, though the heirloom tomatoes were sweet and just acidic enough.
Two other appetizers, fried green tomatoes caprese ($8.95), with balsamic and red wine vinegar, and a rectangle of robiola cheese topped with pistachios and honey and served with house-made flatbread, were both undermined by excessive sweetness that turned them into candidates for dessert.
An undistinguished, flaccid pasta with fresh local corn was also too sweet, and a pasta with clam sauce and pancetta ($13.50) had so little of the latter I couldn't taste it.
Murray's organic chicken alla diavolo ($14.95) was too peppery and rather dry, and a hangar steak with truffled french fries ($19.95) ordered medium-rare arrived at the table well-done. The french fries would have been great if they didn't taste like a bottle of truffle oil had been accidentally spilled on them.
The dessert to get is the fruit crisp ($6) with vanilla ice cream. A molten chocolate cake ($6) had sprung a leak by the time it got to the table, and the zeppole ($6) had way too much honey on them.
So all my rooting came to naught. The Columbia community is still in need of a really solid Italian restaurant. I actually think Campo has good intentions. The kitchen's execution is too unsteady at this point, and when I read the menu, it feels like the restaurant is trying too hard to be all things to all people. Who knows? Maybe Campo will get its act together. As is the case with the Columbia football team, hope springs eternal.
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