photo credit: Emily Schindler
At this point, Union Square Hospitality Group doesn’t need any new hits. Coming up on almost four decades of opening dining establishments in NYC, this restaurant group could choose to ride on the coattails of its previous successes in perpetuity. You may even react with a slight eye roll upon hearing about yet another USHG spot and ask yourself, “Do we really need more of these?” But once you taste the bread and pasta at Ci Siamo, you'll think, "Yeah, more would be good."
The unadorned entrance to this second floor upscale Italian restaurant is not exactly easy to find. It’s nestled among a lineup of retail spaces in what is essentially an outdoor mall in Manhattan West. This area between Hudson Yards and Penn Station is trying to graduate beyond its status of “fake neighborhood,” and Ci Siamo is one solid step towards possibly achieving that goal.
When you walk inside, you'll feel like you're checking into a nice hotel, about to start a vacation in Milan (but in reality, you'll still have that 8:15am meeting to discuss "team dynamics" in the morning). There are leather and velvet chairs arranged on triangular tiled flooring, as well as a whole wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that face a lemon-themed outdoor installation known as Citrovia—which seems like something that happens when a real estate developer loses a bet to somebody on shrooms. You’ll be surprised by how massive the space is—it seems to keep going and going—but despite the size of the room, you’ll still have a tough time getting a table.
Chef Hillary Sterling, previously of Vic's and A Voce (where she worked with Lilia's Missy Robbins), has created a menu that centers around live-fire cooking. But the dishes that come from the open-fire station aren’t the ones that make our heads nod in appreciation to no one in particular. The tender smoked swordfish goes well with its lemony artichokes and fresh basil but is ultimately forgettable—and, while we like the deeply-flavored dry aged ribeye with salsa verde a little more, we wouldn’t order it again. That’s why we recommend sticking with the starters and pastas.
The bread and pastry items at Ci Siamo are phenomenal. Before anyone even hands you a menu, order the melty caramelized onion torta with plenty of sharp pecorino baked into a rich and crumbly crust. The cast iron focaccia with tomato conserva (think tomato paste alongside olive oil with chili flakes) is lightly crisped on the outside and fluffy on the inside, while the peppery gnocco fritto stuffed with goat gouda will convince you to set a recurring "eat cheesy fried dough" reminder on your calendar. If you happen to be on a low-carb diet, we implore you to take a day off. Otherwise, reconsider coming here, or you'll get irritable watching people around you eat these items. No one wants to see that side of you.
The rest of your focus should be on the pastas. There are usually six offered, and every single one of them is worth ordering. One standout is the creamy ricotta-filled agnolotti with rapini and Calabrian chili flakes, and another is the cavatelli with little chunks of lobster in a thin chili and vermouth sauce. (Both have a little bit of spice.) But the pasta our minds spontaneously wander towards when we’re walking outside in the cold is the hearty stracci with tons of shredded rabbit that seems like it’s been braised for days.
Ci Siamo is certainly a big step up for commuters who have gotten used to grabbing Sbarro and turkey sandwiches from Hudson News over the years. The portions here are generous (even the gelati comes in unexpectedly tall sundae glasses), so it’s also a great place for anyone planning a group meal. After taking a few bites of food here, people stop looking at their TikTok feeds mid-scroll and feel compelled to start talking about what they’re eating. We don’t see that too often. Once you start getting into your own meal, you too might be so focused on the food that missing your train or the first quarter of the Knicks game won’t feel like such a huge sacrifice.
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Caramelized Onion Torta
If you only order one thing on the menu, it should be this torta. The rich and delicate crust seems like it'll crumble apart as soon as you tap it with your fork, and the middle is a gooey mixture of pecorino toscano and caramelized onions (which provide a little sweetness). If you come across someone who eats this and thinks, “Meh,” that person probably hates babies too.
These rectangular and airy pieces of fried dough are stuffed with melted goat gouda and topped with pepper, pecorino, and parmesan. Separate plates of prosciutto or mortadella are available, and you should specifically pair one of those with the gnocco.
Insalata Di Mare
This beautiful seafood salad is a nice contrast to all those breads and pastas you should be ordering. It’s served at room temperature and includes swordfish, lobster, mussels, scallops, and herbs dressed in olive oil with minimal salt and chili flakes. At $22, it’s one of the better deals on the menu, considering the amount of seafood involved.
Agnolotti in a creamy butter and lemon sauce, if cooked properly, is almost always good. What stands out about this dish is that all the agnolotti edges are just a touch firmer than al dente (which we love), and there are bread crumbs sprinkled throughout. Both textural elements put this dish over the top of other versions.
This pasta will make you feel that sensation you get when you eat a bowl of chicken and dumplings or whatever soupy thing transports you to a place of comfort. The dish consists of thin sheets of pasta, slivers of parmesan and garlic, and tender shreds of rabbit in a thin broth with prominent flavors of thyme.
Grass Fed Ribeye
This steak isn’t a typical thick cut of ribeye with a simple salt and pepper rub. It comes in a salsa verde, and we detected some subtle sweetness (due to the type of wine the meat is cooked in, our server informed us). But the most overpowering flavor is the treviso on top, which comes very charred, maybe even to a fault. If you’re the type of person who likes to mostly taste the beef in a steak, you’ll probably find too much going on in this dish.
If you like key lime pie, this is the dessert for you. It comes with a little pool of olive oil in a mound of browned, cloud-like meringue. If you eat everything together, each bite starts with a strong tart flavor and then quickly mellows with a creamy finish.