Don’t wander off the path. It’s good advice while hiking, when one minute you’re leaving the trail to follow a colorful bird, and the next you’re pleading with a squirrel to show you where it forages for nuts. It’s also sage wisdom if you happen to be the protagonist in a horror movie, when taking a new way home isn’t a matter of if, it’s only a matter of when. At Rezdora, the path is pasta.
Rezdora is an upscale Italian restaurant in Flatiron a couple blocks from both Union Square and Madison Square Park, but the narrow, brick-walled space feels like a low-key spot you might find in Italy. The chef used to work at Osteria Francescana, one of the world’s most famous restaurants, and all of his pastas reference the region where it’s located, Emilia-Romagna. While choosing from the five to ten options available on any given night deserves as much care as picking the fastest checkout line at the grocery store, the good news is that whichever ones you order will be excellent.
Each pasta includes ingredients common in Emilia-Romagna, like prosciutto in the anolini, black truffles covering the huge ravioli, and two types of intensely rich ragu. They’re both great, but the maccheroni with salty, meaty shredded duck ragu that’s topped with a downpour of fresh parmesan is best. If you want to fully commit to the path here, and you’re OK consuming as much flour as Al Pacino in Scarface, then you could do the five-course pasta tasting menu, but we don’t think it’s worth the $90 price tag. Instead, we recommend getting two pastas per person, and starting with the gnocco fritto. The sweet, nearly hollow balls of fried bread are topped with cured meat, and it’s the only non-noodle at Rezdora that’s a must-order.
But stray further than the gnocco fritto, and expect a disappointing dinner at Rezdora. The stracciatella has the consistency of grits and needs to be eaten with a spoon, which you could solve by getting a side of bread, but it’s not worth paying $20 for a few bites of toasted bread and cheese. The texture of the veal cheek is like ice cream cake left to thaw for too long, and the steak is just two small pieces of unmemorable sirloin standing alone on a big white plate. Ordering dessert would also be a mistake, which you’ll discover when your cake arrives with gelato that tastes like flash-frozen olive oil.
Of course, the main consequence of deviating from the path at Rezdora is that you’ll have a forgettable dinner, but it also means you’ll get the wrong impression of this restaurant. It’s a pasta spot, and you should treat it as such. Considering that means eating great spaghettoni and taglioloni, it shouldn’t be that hard.
In very specific situations it can be OK to stray off the path, like when Waze tells you there are a bunch of cops up ahead, or at Rezdora when you see this gnocco fritto on the menu. The three balls of hollow, fried dough could be a light dessert, and each one is topped with a different delicious cured meat.
The various cheese options - burrata, stracciatella, and mozzarella - are all made better by a $5 side of bread. That’ll put you at around $20 just for bread and cheese, and considering the barely shareable portion sizes and unnoticeable accompanying ingredients, you can skip this part of the menu.
The lettuce is basically just a delivery mechanism to get cheese, black pepper, and thick pecorino dressing to your mouth. Those things are delicious, but at the same time, the pastas are more delicious, and this isn’t really a salad.
Take a bite of this spaghettoni without looking at it, and you’ll assume it was transported to your plate on one of those open-ocean rafts that Wilson swam away from in Cast Away. So you’ll be understandably confused when you see that it only has three clams and some breadcrumbs on top. But those breadcrumbs are covering up a briny clam sauce packed with chopped clams and it’s one of the best pastas here.
Microwaving frozen Kraft noodles would make for can’t-miss pasta if it were served in this rich parmigiano cream sauce. But the anolini are firm on the bottom with a soft, thin shell covering the perfect amount of ground beef, prosciutto, and pork sausage. Get this.
This is the weakest pasta at Rezdora, and while that’s kind of like being a benchwarmer for an all-star team, it still means you don’t need to order it. The spinach pasta is filled with braised leeks, but the majority of the flavor comes from the heavy dose of peas and the pleasant, but not particularly memorable mushroom puree underneath.
This is basically a giant ravioli stuffed with egg yolk, ricotta, and corn, that’s then topped with morels, black truffle, and freshly grated parmesan - so rather than asking if it’s good, the question is really, how good? And the answer is: pretty good. It’s tough to eat as the soft ricotta and egg yolk spill out onto the plate (especially without bread to soak it up), and you don’t get any flavor from the truffle. The spongy morels on the side are so delicious that this would be worth ordering if it weren’t also the most expensive pasta on the menu.
Both the maccheroni and the tagliolini soak up their ragus like one of those magic mops in infomercials, but if you’re only going to order one, then it should be the maccheroni al pettine. The thin tubes of pasta have ridges that help absorb all of the juices, and the ragu has so much flavor that even the bites without any meat taste like forkfuls of juicy, salty, shredded duck.
The veal cheek is so soft that we’re pretty sure it’d fall apart on its own if you stared at it hard enough, which might sound appealing, but it’s off-putting to eat.
This isn’t a bad cut of steak, but it’s like the underperforming sibling that smokes out back with the caterers while others give tear-jerking toasts at family gatherings. It’s the most expensive and least interesting dish on the menu, and the only things on the plate to help the two small slabs of sirloin are a few tiny portions of forgettable sauces.
The cake itself is like dense cornbread, and it’s fine for a couple bites, but when you scoop into the gelato hoping to get some sweetness to balance it out, you basically just get a mouthful of olive oil. Skip this and either just drink your dessert, or order another pasta if you’re still hungry.