I've been meaning to try L'Apicio for some time given all the rave reviews. L'Artusi is a good restaurant. There were certainly some memorable dishes (mushroom and egg and pancetta), but the pasta there was only okay.
L'Apicio, on the other hand, has much better pasta, and I dare say better appetizers too.
Fresh ricotta with rhubarb and multigrain crackers 10/10: This dish was so simple and elegant. Each component was delicious and different on its own, and in aggregate, it was one of my favorite cheese appetizers ever. In particular, the crackers were something special. So sweet and crunchy... if Nature's Valley made this, I climb Half Dome just to eat the crackers.
Warm mushroom salad 6/10: Everything was good, but the combination of frisee, mushrooms, and hazelnuts was somewhat confusing. I could barely taste the hazelnuts.
Octopus 7/10: I have no complaints about the octopus. The fregola (I thought they were lentils but they're actually pasta pieces) were way over salted and over sauced. They were just chewy *things*. And I think we got one maybe 2 tentacles per dish. Were they running of octopus so early?
Ramps, pancetta, and eggs ?: I didn't have it. I just got it because it sounded similar to the signature mushroom dish at L'Artusi, and I figure that it would be good. This NY obsession with ramps is kind of out of control. If you think it's cool to have ramp breath... leeks, chives, and garlic are available throughout the year.
Polenta with rabbit 7/10: L'Apicio is known for its polentas, and I must say that it's better than most of the polentas that I've had. I couldn't really taste the rabbit, and it didn't do much to improve the dish. Maybe I would have liked one of the other polentas better. I would try the calamari puttanesca one next time.
Brussels sprouts 3/10: Someone must have dropped them into the fire. It's not easy to do this by mistake.
Mushroom gnocchi 10/10: One of the best gnocchis I've ever had. Gnocchi has the tendency to taste dense or heavy, but these little pillows had just the right amount of bounce and really soaked in the flavors. It had a great balance of potato and starch that I have yet to achieve at home.
Duck Riso 6.5/10: I love risotto, and I love duck. If I were eating by myself, this would have been the 2nd dish (after the gnocchi) that I would have ordered. But it has a strange taste. The duck did not go well with the chorizo. The two flavorful meats were fighting each other, and both completely overpowered the risotto.
Spicy pork sausage casarecce 7/10: Delicious, spicy, al dente. It's a great classic pasta dish. The kick was strong enough that the dish stood out and brought a unique flavor to the table.
Tagliatelle with salumi ragu 6.8/10: This, on the other hand, was a classic, but did not stand out. Also the sheets of pasta folded upon themselves with no sauce to separate the layers, and they stuck a little. I know that happens when I cook pasta, but I don't expect it to happen at a restaurant!
Orecchiette with ribollita ragu: 8/10: I had to look up what ribollita is. It's a Tuscan vegetable soup. The orecchiette was perfectly done, and the bread crumbs were a great touch after having many pastas that did not have a crunchy element. This was one of the better balanced pastas in terms of texture, seasoning, and overall taste.
We were all stuffed after this wild round of carbs, so we didn't have any dessert. If I could have, I would have asked for another round of that ricotta appetizer!
Overall, L'Apicio outshines its older well-established sibling restaurant (I haven't decided on the gender of either restaurant). Sure L'Artusi has its merits (location, location, and egg and mushroom app), but L'Apicio is much more well rounded. The atmosphere is just as vibrant. And I guess the neighborhood is not quite as hip, but it's up and coming, and the only better restaurant I can think of nearby needs to be booked a month in advance.