I was midway through writing this Santina review about how the Meatpacking District has been changing for the best - The High Line! Bubby's! A cool new food hall! But then I received the following unsolicited PR email with the subject line "VIP blogger night invite - Bagatelle the HOTTEST French restaurant in the Meatpacking district." Yikes. Three steps forward, one step back.
Focusing on the positive, Santina is the best thing to happen to the Meatpacking District since meat was actually packed here (do they still do that?). It's the latest in a slew of new releases from the fire-breathing trio known as Major Food Group, who are also behind hot spots like Carbone and Dirty French. They gutted a parking garage underneath the Highline, inserted floor to ceiling windows as walls, and decked the place out in sparkling party time palm trees and shells, creating a fun vibe that's some kind of tropical Italy in Hawaii hits Meatpacking. Weird, but it works.
If you order right, you can have a great meal, but not everything on this menu is amazing. It's actually a frustrating menu, because the dish listings offer no detail or descriptions. Even upon asking, the staff hasn't fully mastered what's what either, and that's not necessarily their fault. Mass confusion that could easily be avoided. Santina would be a way better dining experience if they simply offered up a little more information for each dish. No one wants to ask for descriptions, we just want to know the key ingredients in a "Grigliata Del Giorno" are, 'cause f*ck if I know.
Santina is an unpretentious good time, and nowhere near as intense or intimidating as the rest of the Major roster. It's the kind of place you can just roll into anytime without a reservation, test your luck on a table, but ultimately sit at the spacious bar for a meal. It's fun, it's easy, and it also doubles as easily the best cocktail bar in Meatpacking. Hang here instead of going to the horrible clubs that surround it. Soho House members, you just stepped in shit.
There were exactly zero restaurants we enjoyed hanging out in Meatpacking until Santina arrived. Now there's one. Sorry, Bagatelle. Shirtless, 1pm table dancing is not in the cards for this crew. Apologize to your publicist for us.
We don't usually list cocktails in the food rundown, but the drinks at Santina deserve some love. Part of the reason to come here is to drink booze, so before you just order a glass of wine, consider something shaken or stirred. This is the Amalfi Gold with bourbon, orange, ginger, crème de peche. Bartender? Another round please.
As tempting as it is to order their house special Cecina, a flat bread made of chickpea flour crepes, skip it. It's nowhere near as amazing as we wanted it to be. It's tasteless, and even when enhanced by a rich Lamb Tartare or overwhelmingly olive-enhanced raw Calabrian Tuna, it's simply not that good. We were left wishing they just served the Dirty French table bread, which may be the best table bread ever created, here as well. Dare to dream.
An absolute must order, and one of the best items on the menu. Thin strips of yellow butternut squash with a bunch of different spices, herbs and creams from pumpkin seeds to chives to pink peppercorns, and crème fraîche.
A light, excellent crudo of branzino with lots of oils and spices, the calling card at Santina. Definitely get this on the radar as an appetizer to share and skip the Octopus Spiedini and the Beets Siciliana, those were both whatever. Feel free to hit the Fritto Misto though, their fried seafood medley gets a big thumbs up.
The salads are surprisingly awesome at Santina, and they're far more than just vegetarian patronization. Lots of thought go into their leafy greens, and the best of the bunch is the Tricolore. It's topped with raw tuna slices and an insanely tasty, zesty Italian dressing. Make sure this is on the table.
The wild rice calamari is B-O-M-B. It's a big serving too, a hearty rice stir fry with seared squid. Again, B-O-M-B. Order it.
We enjoyed the sheep's milk loaded, green Tortellini Sorrentina the most of all the pastas. Definitely order that one. We also loved the Rigatoni Norma, which comes with an excellent tomato sauce, and a heavy dose of eggplant. If you don't like eggplant, you won't like this dish. The Spaghetti Blue Crab is OK. It's a straightforward bowl of spaghetti in red sauce, with a hint of crab and a little fire. It could benefit from some additional texture or flavors somewhere. People seem to love the signature Chitarra Santina, thin strips of eggy pasta with the random combo of mussels and lamb. We don't get it. It certainly doesn't lack flavor, but for us, those flavors simply didn't click together. I also never want to eat mussels in pasta again.
A beautifully presented piece of fish steak that needs to be cooked a little more, because eating medium rare swordfish isn't exactly enjoyable. Skip the overly red sauced Bass Agrigento, consider the Swordfish Dogana if you really like swordfish, but order the Whole Grilled Porgy, that's the best move. Or, if you're splurging, go with the Lobster Catalan - you won't be disappointed there.
Yes, that's an Italian ice in a grapefruit shell. Yes, this is how you should end your meal. Obviously.