Like Interstate Kitchen & Bar, Crimson Canary sports a retro, specifically mid-century, theme; unlike its sibling, said theme is urban rather than rural—CC’s doing the kind of blood-&-marinara-splattered, East Coast–mafioso song & dance that I got my fill of back in Boston’s most blatant tourist traps. So I’m happy to report that at least they don’t overdo it (unless you happen to be sitting in a booth beneath an unadvisedly grisly crime-scene snapshot); on the contrary, the vibe is quite twinkly & mellow. That’s especially true of the kitchen & bar menus, which borrow from Italian-Americana all of the commendable elements, none of the schlock. In fact, I think the food’s better than that at Interstate, perfectly likeable as the latter is.

Take this savvy twist on panzanella (but don’t call it that; when I asked about it by the Italian name, I was told, “I don’t think we have that.” My dining companion & dear friend Beth—whose photos these are, & who’s documenting her tenacious ride on the rollercoaster of life here at 12 Cities 1 Year—heard a few such hiccups from the bar staff; they’re an amiable bunch, but need a bit more training with respect to Italian food in general and their own menu in particular).

In my time I’ve had versions of the Tuscan bread salad that were so precious as to be unrecognizable as well as some that confused “peasant-style” with “cheap-ass.” Ultimately, the real deal comes down to good-quality bread that’s somewhere between the day-old & the crouton stages, plus careful dressing (traditionally local olive oil & red-wine vinegar). This one succeeds on both counts, & it replaces with equal consideration the standard parmesan & marinated tomatoes, peppers & red onions with gorgonzola, gently pickled onions, sliced pear & mixed greens. Though not cornbread, the cubes have an almost cornbready heft; dig.

And damn these smoked mushroom–ricotta ravioli were good.

Truth is I rarely order pasta in American restaurants anymore. Of the 100,000 options out there, 99,900 of them are a waste of your daily-allotted carbohydrates. But that remaining 100? Bacio, bacio. Any number of Italian restaurants in this town could take a page from Crimson Canary in its handling of pasta dough (never mind its presentation—the above’s gorgeous, right?): this was just silken & tender enough, with that telltale al dente resilience & flavor of its own; the mushrooms, meanwhile, were its firm, meaty equal, as the fresh cheese & herbs provided deceptively delicate balance.

Even better, however, was the fettuccine accompanying the terrific veal scaloppini.

When I ordered the dish a couple of weeks ago, it didn’t get so much as a name-check in the menu description, though I see that’s now changed, justifiably—it’s glossy, snappy, textured with a dusting of herbs & cheese, & the perfect contrast to the meat, which is really just expertly handled: the plump cutlet beautifully browned, adding crunch to its velvet, the mushroom sauce with Marsala & cream the exact opposite of the glop so common at the joints CC’s supposedly emulating. Ditto the throwback but not throwaway cocktails & a wine list that pays homage to emerging regions like Alto Adige & Calabria.

So, yeah, nuova cosa nostra in the Baker District.

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