Felice, a casual neighborhood mini-empire from the East 80s to Gold Street downtown, has gone to finishing school.
Brand-new Felice 56 is the sixth outpost of the Tuscan-themed chain in the city, but it’s bigger, classier and costlier than any of the others — though it’s still in line with standard Midtown pricing.
“We wanted it to be our flagship with a more elevated approach,” says Jacopo Giustiniani, co-founder of Felice and a partner in its parent company, SA Hospitality Group, which also owns Sant Ambroeus and Casa Lever.
Fans of its sister spots around town blink when they first see Felice 56 in the hip Chambers Hotel. Spread over more than 3,000 square feet on two levels (the upper is a casual cafe/cocktail/coffee bar), it’s Felice on steroids — with a more ambitious menu and a longer wine list, but the same focus on vivid, earthborn, seasonal flavors.
Unlike its tight-quartered predecessors, Felice 56 breathes power and style. The high-ceilinged dining room boasts acres of oiled wood beneath a giant watercolor landscape mural by Italian painter Fiona Corsini di San Giuliano.
Florence-raised executive chef Adrian Kercuku’s last gig was at little Felice 64. Now, at age 26, he’s working on a grander stage, with a Midtown clientele that includes high-powered business executives and well-traveled tourists.
Two weeks in, the service is more than friendly, but underschooled. Guys who don’t know the word Vermentino — a staple of every Felice wine list — shouldn’t be asking if we’d like a glass of wine. But that’s every new restaurant’s problem.
Felice 56 isn’t out to break any new Italian ground. It merely delivers its traditional northern style with great integrity.
The menu includes familiar pasta favorites such as spaghetti alla chitarra and tonnarelli cacio e pepe, seething with fresh-made flavor.
Some other dishes are unique to Felice 56, including a strong selection of cheese and cured meats. The prosciutto — from Siena, rather than the more common San Daniele from the Friuli region — is “saltier and more flavorful,” Giustiniani says, and part of the restaurant’s mission to be “more regionally Tuscan.”
Pan-seared organic Scottish salmon with sauteed escarole and green peas is $30 at other Felices. Here, the fish is wild, pepper-crusted and served with a richly flavored puree of crushed chickpeas for $37. I’d be pleased to have it at Marea or Il Gattopardo.
Felice 56 follows tough acts in the space, which previously was home to Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town and, more recently, David Chang’s Má Pêche.
“We are honored to follow those earlier chefs,” Giustiniani says, noting that Zakarian had honored Felice 56 in return with a lunch visit.
I don’t know if Chang will pop in as well, but I’ll be back for more.