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The entrance comes blanketed in blonde wood and foreshadows a menagerie of wooden stools and tables that spill onto one another through a long hall reaching back to the open flames of the kitchen. It could be a sports bar in another life, or a ski chalet, but the crowd gathering nightly is looking for pizza—pizza that’s far better than they’ll find in a cardboard box, at about the same price. They’ll stay to savor the 24-month aged American Iberico prosciutto and come back for the succulent porchetta.
You could call it a pizzeria or a trattoria. It can masquerade as a place to steal away with a date; two can find inspiration at the long butcher block that looks into an open kitchen where chef Robert Berry mans a fiery stone hearth. It invokes the rustic simplicity and gentle hospitality of the Italian countryside, and yet there is a juxtaposition of elegance in much of the food. Indaco, Steve Palmer and The Indigo Road Restaurant Group’s newest addition to Upper King Street, works to serve a variety of occasions.
A boisterous group of friends at a large central table devours a selection of pizza, one topped with charred Brussels sprouts and apples, another thick with clams and lardo. There are flatbreads adorned with house-made sausage and fresh farm eggs. Nearby, a young couple meanders through the soft, pliant dough of handmade pasta, the subtle kick of coriander and sausage, with a breath-taking gulp of a grappa at the end of the meal. Indaco defies a certain trend toward strict regional expressions of Italian food, preferring instead a smattering of just about everything, sans cliché.
Or chalk it up to the business savvy of Palmer, looking to fill an underserved niche on this highfalutin stretch. Maybe the food must match the reach of the extensive wine list, which meanders the Italian boot from Friulian chardonnay to the inky black of a Campanian aglianico. Regardless the motive, the overarching theme of approachability fits beautifully into its well-appointed confines.
Olive oil, butter, the salt of the ocean invoked by the tentacles of a squid: they buttress the smells of wood-scorched pizza that waft through the menu, but there’s a distinct masculinity here, a machismo. If you order enough protein, say a spit-roasted half chicken and farro, or perhaps a pork blade steak with roasted cauliflower, it’s likely proffered in a rough chop on a large wooden platter, blonde of course. It also will be perfectly cooked and delicious.
Chef Berry’s kitchen executes well despite its relative youth. There are stumbles. The snapper crudo can come to the table sporting enough lemon juice to be considered well beyond ceviche. However, the paired flavors of black olives, pickled mustard seeds, and jalapeños testify to the potential of the dish. A pumpkin blossom loudly proclaimed as a special James Beard contest dish falls routinely flat—heavy and over-wrought, with an unyielding density to the crab filling and a soggy crust where it should exceed shatteringly.
You forget these when you move on to the crispy pork trotters and eggplant caponata and are completely spellbound upon the arrival of the veal tongue, which when draped in fresh fennel, dipped into an accompanying smear of tonnato sauce, and studded with the crunch of walnuts deserves the highest of praise. The wood-roasted squid salad rises to similar accolade. While Berry achieves a mesmerizing perfection of texture and palpable wood smoke in the seafood, the squid refuse to overtake the notion that composed salads balance constituent parts: peppery arugula and pickled peppers back a palette of chickpeas, bitter radicchio, biting little capers, and small dollops of roasted potato. It may be his most accomplished dish.
The pasta’s house-made. It’s hard to choose one. There are black squid ink casonsei, which are traditionally meat-filled packets, but in this case burst with shrimp, scallop, and blue-crab forcemeat. If that’s not rich enough, then the duck agnolotti spiked with foie gras and covered in buttery chanterelles and salsify should fulfill even the more gluttonous of eaters. It is a masterstroke, well-executed, and like all of Berry’s pastas, cooked in the proper fashion. If your wallet is fatter than your belly, the tortellini comes with white truffles shaved atop.
The centerpiece of this feast must be the roast porchetta—if you are lucky, the night’s signature roast—demarked at the top of the menu alongside the four-course chef’s feast. The pork is fatty, splendidly so, streaked with tenderness and laced with red Calabrian peppers and herbs. Their considerable heat cuts through the richness of the pork and makes the gargantuan pile somewhat addictive, each bite punctuated by shards of crackling, crumbling skin. Even when bursting at the seams, I go back for more. I devour it completely as my date suggestively oohs and ahhs over a silky chocolate hazelnut panna cotta. Pity the guy sitting next to me. He’s not looking at my girl. He wishes he hadn’t just ordered that crispy wood-fired pizza.
The Draw: The versatile nature of Indaco can serve any occasion.
The Drawback: An emphasis on rusticity may leave the fine-dining set missing their white tablecloths.
Don’t Miss: Veal tongue and porchetta