The most thrilling new uptown restaurant since anybody first heard of COVID-19 is in a shopping mall — believe it or not.
Bad Roman at Deutsche Bank (née Time Warner) Center, from the Quality Branded team (Smith & Wollensky, Quality Bistro) touts “inauthentic twists on authentic Italian dishes.”
But the real twist is what Midtown has needed ever since indoor dining resumed two years ago: a jumbo feasting and partying scene for adults — without downtown chaos.
Almost from the moment Bad Roman (Third Floor, 10 Columbus Cir.) opened last month, it’s become the hardest place to book north of 14th Street.
Things are just getting started at 8 p.m., the hour when many Midtown places are already quieting down.
It’s packed and roaring every night, even on Friday when office buildings are empty.
Stepping from the eerily quiet third floor into boisterous Bad Roman through tall, club-style doors feels like culture shock.
The vast, curving room, formerly home to sleepy Landmarc, takes its energy from an ingenious layout by GRT Architects.
Deco-ish orange booths, banquettes and tables arranged in a seemingly random pattern make it feel like a party wherever you sit.
“We’re in a mall and we knew we had to do something different,” a manager explained.
Central Park views are offset by a dizzying swirl of hanging greenery, ice cream parlor-ish globe lights and vivid colors everywhere.
The signature dish — a broiled, two-pound lobster with a mound of pasta between the claws ($95 and enough for two or three) — appears dropped in from outer space.
It’s served with tomato-garlic butter and the campanelle pasta is tossed in spicy Calabrian vodka sauce with oven-dried cherry tomatoes, hot cherry peppers and shaved garlic. A basil garnish is a final touch.
“It does require a little work,” the waiter cheerfully warned my table.
But seafood forks easily plucked the luscious lobster from the shell. The only “work” for my friend was deciding whether she liked the meat from the tail or the claws better.
The lobster’s the brainchild of chef Nick Gaube, who previously worked at Quality Branded’s more straightforward Quality Italian on Sixth Avenue.
His menu makes few concessions to calorie-conscious leaf-eaters.
Rich small plates ($18 to $23) include filet mignon meatballs, porchetta ribs and sweet-and-creamy black truffle-honey whipped ricotta. If you’re not careful, you can easily fill up before the main event.
Larger dishes (pastas $24 to $42; meat and seafood $34 to $64) put gentle spins on greatest hits “from the Italian countryside to New York’s Little Italy,” the places boasts.
Fortunately there’s more of the former than of the tourist-oriented latter. Faroe Island salmon with sun-dried tomato pesto riffs on a Tuscan dish rarely seen on menus.
Other dishes combine old favorites on a single plate, like filet mignon topped with cacio e pepe raviolo. Slice into the pasta, and the filling oozes into the beef, making it all the more luscious.
Cocktails are more aggressively over-the-top, like a martini made with vodka and pepperoncini brine — not my cup of tea.
Better to stick with wine. The wine list is deep in regional Italian and California vintages and excellent, reasonably priced by-the-glass choices such as flowery Casal di Serra Verdicchio and Sicilian rose Benanti that goes with just about anything.
Bad Roman came along just in time for the mall, which although home to Per Se, Porter House and Momofuku Noodle Bar, has otherwise seen a revolving door of dead restaurants.
But the biggest winner is all of Midtown.
Bad Roman shows there’s life in the old beast yet. Just bring earplugs and a big appetite.