Monday, October 7, 2013

Italian Bistro, "Incognito," Surprises With Its Scottish Flair

Photo courtesy of Incognito Bistro
Last week, WGINY was invited to a press dinner at "Incognito," a Roman bistro with "Scottish flair." When NYC restaurants offer cuisine from two vastly different regions, the first thought diners typically have is fusion, and an expectation that individual menu items will each have influences from both cuisines. Incognito Bistro, however, surprises with the unexpected separation of its Italian and Scottish roots.

Despite that Executive Chef and Co-Owner Paolo Montana is Scottish-Italian, hailing from Glasgow, a "Scottish Corner" of the menu at Incognito was only added this past summer, although the bistro has been in business since July 2011. Chef Paolo's humble story of how he became General Manager and Executive Chef of one of the best Italian restaurants in Glasgow by the time he was twenty-four years old, prior to emigrating to the US, reveals that his true talent lies within and that perseverance really does pay off.

Executive Chef and Co-Owner, Paolo Montana
Photo courtesy of Incognito Bistro
Prosciutto and Rucola Pizza
photo by WGINY
Our meal for the evening, served tasting-course style, began with a Prosciutto and Rucola pizza, one of eight savory small pies on the expansive menu at Incognito. On top of fresh roasted tomato and mozzarella, a thick slice of prosciutto sat on each pizza wedge, waiting to be devoured. We next moved on to some appetizers, of which my favorite was a Baby Shrimp Timble seeping with cilantro and avocado that had an ambrosial effect as it evanesced in my mouth.

Risotto prepared with smoked mozzerella
Photo by WGINY

In the middle of the meal we enjoyed selections of pasta including a unusually smokey-style mozzarella Risotto, and a Carbonerapasta with a parmigiano sauce and hefty helpings of pancetta, at just the right texture to complement the pasta.

Three other plates also made it to my memory, at least two of which came from that recently introduced "Scottish Corner," featuring upscale, creative versions of classic Scottish fare. There was the tasting of "Isle of Skye Scallops," made with scallops literally flown in from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, and the "Highland Haggis," Chef Paolo's take on Scotland's national dish.

Highland Haggis
Photo by WGINY

The scallops were pan roasted and prepared with a velvety butter sauce known as fennel beurre blanc. As for the haggis, I admittedly was wholly unfamiliar with this delicacy until Chef Paolo introduced it to me. I especially use the word delicacy, as patrons who know the history of haggis may be turned off by the idea of it, yet at Incognito the lamb sausage, turnip, and creamed potato sampling set in a light whisky au jus sauce really was a hidden treat, pleasant and soft and tantalizing. And that's the crux of Incognito right there -- it's exactly the opposite of what you'd expect.

Isle of Skye scallop tasting
Photo by WGINY
Not all of the items we sampled are included on the regular menu, but the menu changes seasonally, and if Chef Paolo gets to know you (and like you) as a customer, you may even be able to convince him to create something special just for you. As seems to be the trend with emerging restaurants, Paolo uses local and organic ingredients wherever possible, but yet again he goes a step further and is willing to accommodate special dietary needs, such as requests for gluten-free pasta.

Incognito's large, open dining area is both modern and vintage
Photo courtesy of Incognito Bistro
The story of Chef Paolo would not be complete without mention of his beautiful and charming wife and Co-Owner, Adriana Moretti. They may be the most down to earth power couple you will ever meet, and the restaurant works because of their hard work together, which brings me to the decor at Incognito. Richly painted columns adorn the large open dining area, and here's another surprise -- it's Adriana's mother, Scottish artist, Patricia Moretti, who is responsible for the colorful pastels. The atmosphere is at once both sleekly modern and suggestively vintage, with custom-made tables and chairs, and a leather banquette, watched over by black-and-white photographs of yore.

Never-ending dessert platter
Photo by WGINY
There's also a private room for parties or the occasional celebrity guest (yes, Incognito has gotten some, and no I can't tell you who, it's incognito!). Other special menu offerings include an all day bar menu, including both food and cocktails, where the "happy hour" never ends, as well as pre-theatre and lunch menus. Incognito even delivers.

Any good evening should end with a fine dessert, and ours did. Offered a selection of every dessert on the current menu, the standouts for me were a rich, creamy, chocolate torte glazed with caramel sauce, and a smooth vanilla panna cotta with a berry compote.

The award-winning Incognito Bistro may be tucked away inconspicuously in the Flatiron district of New York City, but it's not staying hidden very well, and if you have the chance to try it you'll see why. Try it on a Tuesday night for a taste of the new live jazz program, or on any other night of the week, except Sunday, which Paolo and Adriana take off for a well-deserved day of rest. And if you're wondering about the plaid ties your wait staff are wearing, read all about "Clan Italia," as Incognito becomes the first US restaurant to feature Italian Tartan. In fact, as far as WGINY can find, Incognito is the only restaurant in NYC offering both Italian and Scottish fare together.

Incognito Italian Bistro is located at 30 West 18th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Reservations can be made by phone or online at

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