Bar Primi is one of those restaurants that gets by on its looks. It sits pretty on a very attractive street corner on Bowery, furnished in that Eurochic way that gets all the beautiful people coming, and of course, it doesn’t hurt that celebrity chef Andrew Carmellini’s name is attached to it.
But when you get right down to it, the food is decent, but it is not exceptionally amazing. It’s good enough to hold your interest, and it is sufficiently satisfying, but there is better pasta being made elsewhere. Like literally down the street on Bleecker–Bianca is much more low-key, cheaper and tastier than its flashier neighbor. I suppose for a scene-y restaurant, you could probably do a lot worse, and having dinner in a stylish place that turns out competent food is not a bad use of time.
Bar Primi does not take reservations, which isn’t too much of a problem, since the tables for two turnaround fairly quickly. But make sure the staff is taking down the size of your party correctly, because they can be a little spacey. We put our names down for a party of 5, which the hostess clearly acknowledged, and then were shown to a table meant for just two. To be fair, the restaurant addressed the error and remedied the inconvenience and extra wait time by sending out complimentary appetizers, but it could have been avoided entirely.
The portions here are small, so you could probably share two appetizers and three pasta courses between two people without feeling overly full. For appetizers, we shared the ricotta bruschetta, the eggplant bruschetta, the stuffed meatballs, the brooklyn arugula salad and the grilled organic broccolini.
The ricotta bruschetta was the universal favorite–you can’t go wrong pairing soft, creamy cheese with fresh and delicious figs. I was also a fan of the broccolini, which actually had something interesting to say in the world of grilled vegetables. The language it spoke was smoky and spicy, with some sour, pickled notes sprinkled in, and a few currants to sweet talk you into submission.
Carmellini’s duck meatballs at A Voce were legendary, but the stuffed meatballs here were extremely dense and heavy handed. It felt like it was comprised mostly of filler, as I could only really taste the cheese stuffing, and not much of the ground beef. The eggplant bruschetta was decent, but other than the overpowering goat cheese, it wasn’t that compelling. The arugula salad was probably the most bland, which was surprising, as the server sold us pretty hard on this one. It literally tasted like fresh arugula out of a salad bag sprinkled with some cheese. Which is fine if you’re making a dinner from your Blue Apron subscription, but not when you’re paying $11 for it.
Our first round of pastas arrived–the orecchiette, the bucatini and the paccheri with shrimp. Be warned that the flavors of the shrimp feature very prominently in the paccheri, as if all the murky seawater and kelp from the fishing nets were cast directly into the pasta water. I admire bold flavors, but something about the paccheri felt a little half baked. The flavors were a little too strong and rough, as if it were still in the preliminary stages of being refined.
The orecchiette also fell a little flat. Again, the pasta and all the individual components were prepared well, it was very hearty and robust, but it could have benefited from some lighter or sharper flavors so that it wasn’t so one-dimensional. I felt like I was just filling up on dense pasta ears and chickpeas, and without any purpose.
The restaurant finally broke some ground with the bucatini, which really held my attention. The pasta was perfectly al dente and slightly starchy and salty. The lamb was tender and flavorful, although it was a tad gamey. But you might want to risk embracing lamb’s wilder side, because the thick sauce and delicious noodles make it all worth it.
The next round of entrees included the fiore di carciofi artichoke pasta, the rigatoni and the special of the day, the trademarked “sausage boss.” First of all, let’s talk about this “sausage boss.” How could you not order something off the menu with a name like that? And yes, this sausage was definitely boss. It was delightfully chunky and tangy, with a great casing that held back all the delicious meat bursting from within, and even better were the incredible yukon potatoes that were served alongside it.
I felt like Bar Primi finally broke some real culinary ground with the arrival of the fiore de carciofi. Interestingly enough, most of the members in my group didn’t like it, but I was very impressed by its visually arresting arrangement and the striking flavor pairings that I couldn’t quite place anywhere. It arrived in the form of an extremely long, narrow ravioli stuffed with artichoke and pecorini cheese, rolled up to look like some sort of a cinnamon roll. Already it challenged the way you engaged with pasta, as you had to cut into it, as opposed to mostly leveraging your fork. And instead of that comforting and familiar bite of mellow cheese and meat, you were met with this sharp and earthy flavor sensation. Who knew that artichoke could draw out such qualities in a cheese filling?
If you’re more into the traditional crowd favorites, then the rigatoni is the pasta for you. It’s classic Italian red sauce done extremely well. We were all fighting for the very little that was in the small group serving.
We were comfortably full by this point, but we did have enough room for the tiramisu. I don’t remember this dessert all that well, but it was very pleasant–light and not too sweet. Although Bar Primi didn’t hit it out of the park with every dish, it was good enough to make me want to return. It’s like regularly watching a mildly amusing sitcom like The Mindy Project on TV. Sometimes the writing’s tight, and other times it’s a little weak, but the overall story is good-natured and funny enough so that you would go out of your way to revisit past episodes on On Demand.
New York, NY 10003