With its dark wood paneling, bright, knowledgeable servers, and a pages-long list of amari, One Fifth feels very much like the kind of place where NYU faculty members go to get sloshed at a departmental dinner. A glance at the seasonal Italian menu will make you hungry in the best way.
Everything sounds so good, but the reality is very hit-or-miss. This is a great place to snack and drink, but not an ideal choice for a full dinner.
The secret to eating at One Fifth and liking it is to order exclusively from the antipasti and dessert menus. Let yourself order enough small plates to offset the many drinks you’re going to have, because this is a great place to drink. The espresso martini has a splash of Branca Menta in it, and will make you wonder why everyone else isn’t making their espresso martinis this way. The wine list is extensive, and even by the glass, you can find some gems. There are five pages of amari to choose from, including a $40 pour of stock Fernet from the 60s. That’s freaking cool.
The antipasti are good enough to stand up to the exceptional beverage selection. Do not skip the sesame buns, perfect Italian sandwiches in miniature, piled high with lamb mortadella. The duck in a jar comes with giardiniera so good we wish they sold this, too, by the jar. It’s also worth noting that we haven’t had a single dessert here we didn’t like, and we’ve tried them all.
But if you deviate from this plan, even a little, even for something like black pepper cascarecce with duck ragu and skin crumble (again, sounds so good), you will be disappointed. The menu reads like a siren song, but as with all songs of this nature, there’s a disaster at the end. Skip the pastas, all of which are somehow actively bad. Do not order a meat or fish entree, which is likely to come out overcooked and tasting of nothing in particular, no matter how special their relationship with the farmer who humanely raises the veal for their braciole is. Don’t let yourself be swayed by the promise of freshly-baked pinsas topped with things like guanciale, egg, and pecorino. You will be disappointed.
If you find yourself here for, say, a post-lecture dinner, or a meal with someone’s grandparents, you can have a good time. Here’s what you should order, and what you absolutely shouldn’t:
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A pair of sesame buns stuffed with a pile of thinly-sliced lamb mortadella, plus tangy, vinaigrette-drenched shredded lettuce. This is the best thing on the menu.
Duck in a Jar
Straightforward but delicious duck rillettes, served in a crock with a side of sourdough and giardiniera. The pickled vegetables compliment the rich, fatty duck perfectly. We wonder why every dish can’t achieve this level of balance.
Union Square Market Vegetables
Given how close One Fifth is to the Union Square Market, we can only assume their chef gets their first, picks all the best produce, and knows how to leave it alone. This board of pickled, raw, and charred vegetables is something that should make its way to your table.
Kale Kale Kale
It’s a pretty good kale salad. Nothing exceptional, but not bad.
Pumpkin Blossom Zeppole
A rare miss on the antipasti side. These are limp and flavorless.
Something of a pizza/focaccia hybrid, these freshly-baked flatbreads seem like a good idea. They come topped with all kinds of things that sound appealing, like mushroom taleggio or clams and 'ndjua. They’re a fine choice if you need to soak up some cocktails, but that’s about it.
Apparently, they use smoked flour to make this spaghetti, which then gets tossed with Manila clams and gremolata. It sounds interesting, but sadly, we are not interested in eating this. It tastes oddly like burned plastic.
Tiny shell pasta in a spicy sauce with guanciale! This should be good! Spoiler alert: it’s not. It tastes like the most generic red sauce you’ve ever had.
Black Pepper Cascarecce
This un-appetizingly gray pasta dish comes with what looks like breadcrumbs but is allegedly duck skin. Bread crumbs would have been better. The only thing you taste here is fat.
Snowdance Chicken Piccata
We’ve never met a Snowdance chicken we didn’t like, until we met this one. It was sadly dry and under-seasoned.
Veal should have a delicate, nuanced flavor. This veal tastes like nothing, but the charred bits on the outside are okay.
Jami's 1/3 Cookie in a Jar
This is a massive, gooey chocolate chip walnut cookie that’s served propped up on a napkin in a comically large jar. While the presentation is weird, the cookie is perfect. Get a scoop of vanilla gelato on the side for maximum effect.
Honey Pine Nut Tart
Do you like pignoli cookies? This tart is like a pignoli cookie on steroids. It’s delicious.
This is not a traditional tiramisu, because it has chocolate pudding in it. Honestly, we’re into it.