My friend L is an Italian food junkie (and won't eat much else), so she chose this place, Il Bagatto, for her belated birthday dinner last evening. A small group of five diners braved the V train to the Lower East Side, and we arrived at around 5:45 p.m. to begin the festivities.
The first, and perhaps most accurate, thing that I need to say about this place is that it's weird. First of all, the restaurant's Web site doesn't even include a regular menu, just a takeout menu. And, as it turns out, they only had half the items listed on the menu provided by nymag.com. Hello, "fusilli served with sausage, mushroom, peas, fresh tomato and a touch of cream"...where were you?
The restaurant itself is actually very pretty, with the standard "we're a rustic Italian trattoria" decor of exposed brick and white linens and candles. The strangeness began when we were ushered downstairs to wait at the bar while they "got our table ready," despite the fact that we were the only people in the restaurant at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday. The downstairs bar, which is pictured on the nymag.com Web page, is actually pretty cool, and the back rooms are beautiful and private and would probably be quite romantic if you were hiding away with someone. However, we were not hiding away. We were loud, loud people who planned to celebrate a birthday in a drunken haze.
After five weird (there's that word again) minutes talking to the bartender and trying to decide what to order, they informed us that our table was ready. Upstairs. So, we all trooped back up there and plunked ourselves down. We ordered a bottle of wine (obviously), and listened to the list of specials, which seemed to have no end. It seemed strange that the list of specials was longer than the menu, but there were quite a few great choices, so there were no complaints. I ended up ordering fusili with eggplant in a tomato and ricotta sauce, and after everyone had selected their dishes we dissolved into drinking, witty conversation, and tearing apart the delicious hunks of bread varieties in the basket, including one with kalamata olives.
This is where a few more weird details make their appearance. L isn't a fan of eating bread dipped in olive oil (I'm pretty sure she's faking her Italian heritage), so she always asks for butter. When she requested this from the waiter, he informed her that they don't serve butter with the bread.
We know they have butter. They know they have butter. Why won't they just give us a pat of butter to humor us? Are they cutting back on their butter usage so much that they can't let the poor girl use a smidge of it for her damn roll on her BIRTHDAY?
A similar issue arose when we were served our meals. The waiter offered to drizzle a bit of parmesan on my pasta (which I OBVIOUSLY accepted), but when L asked for cheese on her meal she was told that they couldn't put cheese on her choice. I'm not sure exactly what she got, but it was PASTA, for heaven's sake. They can't spare a spoonful of cheese? My friend A, naturally, spoke up and asked if she couldn't please have the parmesan cheese anyway, despite their ludicrous policy. The waiter apologized and said that no, she could not, but he might be able to get her some pecorino romano cheese instead. She declined.
It must be said at this point that the food was pretty sensational. The bread was great and the fusili was pretty delicious too. I'm not ashamed to admit that I wolfed down the entire plate! Also, they agreed to serve the same fusili dish to A, who is vegan, without the cheese, so in their defense they were at least accomodating in that respect.
After dinner, I wondered quietly to A if I should bother telling the wait staff that it was L's birthday, and she whispered back that she'd already told them. However, if we were expecting some kind of fuss to be made, we were mistaken. No slice of cake with a single candle. No singing. No discount. No mention of her birthday whatsoever from the employees, not a peep. However, they did manage to write "Happy Birthday" on the BILL. Happy birthday INDEED.
So all in all, I suppose I would recommend this place again considering the food is decently priced and pretty good, plus the decor is cute. However, do not make any perfectly reasonable requests for things like butter or cheese in this ITALIAN RESTAURANT. You will be DENIED.
Good thing we left and went to a bar.
Side note: I also have a few Italian restaurants that I'd like to try at some point: Fresh Basil, which didn't get a great review from nymag.com but which was highly recommended to me by a coworker, and Baraonda, which L found while walking to meet me for dinner elsewhere the other day. They had me at "semi-weekly dance party..."