The streets of Soho fill with European tourists each summer, but if you can't swap your apartment for one of their Florentine flats, at least you can spend an evening conjuring up Italy at Caffe Falai. A visit to the sidewalk tables of this offshoot of the Lower East Side's Falai restaurant is like a little vacation, complete with flirting Italian host and handmade pasta.
Italian restaurants are often a good choice for mixed groups of veg- and meat-eaters, but Caffe Falai offers not only an array of vegetarian salads and primi but also a bonafide vegetarian secondo, so you needn't be left out if your group decides to linger over multiple courses. (And who could blame them for making that choice?)
Start with a flute of prosecco and an Insalata di Funghi ($13). The round of bitter frisée is enriched by scattered shavings of perfectly cooked porcini, oyster, and French horn mushrooms and nutty slices of parmigiano. (There's a bed of mushrooms under it all, as well.) It's fresh and earthy, perfect for sharing.
The ravioli di spinaci ($16, pictured at top) is presented with a little bowl of burrata cream to pour on top (yes please!). The pasta is light, with delicately sweet spinach flavor and a creamy ricotta filing. It's not quite tomato season, so the fresh chopped tomatoes that accompanied the dish didn't wow us, but it's a nice idea. When it first arrives, you might consider the serving small, but it's plenty decadent.
Our favorite dish of the evening was the Tagliolini al Grano Saraceno ($16)—the nutty buckwheat pasta has just the right amount of chew, and it's pretty hearty, slicked with chickpea puree, good olive oil, and pecorino. The sweet onion confit makes this dish memorable; it's a simple combination but it all comes together in a deeply satisfying way.
You could stop at the pasta, for sure, but there's a lovely vegetarian secondo on the menu as well: the Inverno Vegetariano ($16) is beautiful comfort food. The wide bowl is filled with creamy new potatoes, cauliflower florets, mushrooms, broccoli raab, and asparagus, topped with a poached egg and more parmigiano. Each vegetable is tender and luscious, nearly falling apart; we only wished the egg were left a little more runny.
While you joke with the waiter and ponder the relative merits of espresso versus another glass of wine, you might consider a walk around the neighborhood. It's quiet by then; all the tourists have made their way home.
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