Fun fact: Gemma was one the first reviews published on The (Immaculate) Infatuation. Not much has changed since we wrote it up in April of 2009 - this place is still serving the same pastas and pizzas, to the same always entertaining crowd of unfortunately dressed tourists and downtown folk. What has changed is our ability to write restaurant reviews that don’t read like a second grader’s homework assignment about a grocery store.
Gemma has never been in our annual Summer Guide, but few restaurants in NYC turn up for the warm weather quite like this one. This Italian restaurant in The Bowery Hotel features dirty sidewalk dining at its finest. On a nice afternoon, people are stacked three tables deep, with hangers on crowding the space between the tables and the curb, making it pretty much impossible to walk by. Basically, this is a See And Be Seen haven for people who care more about what’s on their feet that night than what’s going in their mouth.
The thing is, Gemma doesn’t suck like it should. Sure, it’s a tad expensive, but the food is consistently somewhere between above average and solid. You can still take clients here to make them feel cool, still organize a last minute birthday dinner for 12 in a pinch, and still rely on Gemma for a lively night out. Just know that you’ll be getting more scene than substance.
Fried rice balls are rarely a bad way to kick off a menu, and these are a good appetizer to share.
The bread they use at Gemma is of the highest quality, which means the crostini section of the menu is one to pay attention to. We usually go broccoli rabe, and burrata and artichoke.
Gemma’s pizzas are always surprisingly good, and we have a couple go-to’s, one of which is the basic margherita. Simple and to the point.
Another pizza we’ve eaten a lot of over the years, with sweet onions, moderately spicy sausage, and a nice thin crust. Order it.
One of their best pizzas, thanks to truffle oil. That sh*t always does the job.
As far as spaghetti with clams go, this is a very average version of it. Eat this somewhere else.
Now we’re talking. Served classically with broccoli rabe and sausage, this is the move if you’re eating pasta.
The bolognese is a safe bet here. Our advice in general would be to go heavy on the pizza and pasta, and don’t bother with the entrees.
As we said, stick with the pasta and pizzas. This fish is boring. The best part of the dish is the sautéed string beans, and that’s not a good thing.
If you’re going for sweets, we’d suggest the Crostata di Mele, an apple tart with olive oil gelato. The crust on the crostata is perfect - really flaky with a hint of salt to offset the sweetness of the apples. Olive oil gelato doesn’t suck either.