Magazine article The New Yorker

Tables for Two: Gaia Italian Cafe

Magazine article The New Yorker

Tables for Two: Gaia Italian Cafe

Article excerpt



251 E. Houston St. (646-350-3977)

Open Mondays through Saturdays for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Entrees $5-$15.

For the past four years, while the cost of a high-end tasting menu shot up as fast as the city's pencil towers, the Milan native Gaia Bagnasacco has been preparing authentic Italian food at bargain prices not seen since the nineteen-nineties. On an unremarkable graffiti- and scaffolding-covered stretch of East Houston Street, her eponymous basement-level B.Y.O.B. cafe is a true "hidden gem," straight out of "Let's Go: New York City."

From the signs for free Wi-Fi to the red plastic water tumblers and the vitrine tables overflowing with magazines, the cafe feels like the communal space of a youth hostel. One Saturday evening, a woman wondered aloud how she would be able to enjoy her meal with the severe face of Ruth Bader Ginsburg staring back at her from the cover of Time . Soon enough, the table was overtaken by a platter of parchment-thin bresaola carpaccio and an umami bomb of rich, creamy burratina cheese mixed with sauteed mushrooms and enough fresh parsley to qualify as a side salad. Nearly every dish at Gaia comes with plastic serving spoons and a crumpled foil trough full of freshly house-baked focaccia soldiers. The same bread, cracker-thin and lightly toasted, is also used for scandalously cheap five-dollar panini, piled high with wide ribbons of mortadella, prosciutto, or speck.

Hot dishes and pastas arrive briskly, in aluminum pots reminiscent of a cheap camping-stove setup, belying their bona fides. …

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