There was something oddly familiar about Macosa Trattoria when I wandered in with a couple of friends on a recent evening. We headed straight for the backyard, which was rustic, with a slatted wooden fence rising on three sides, the tables slightly rickety and pleasantly scattered. Lights in surrounding apartment windows twinkled on as the evening progressed, and the air filled with the sound of chirping crickets. Offered in the classic Italian three-course progression (antipasti, primi, and secondi), the menu was as sparse as the decor, running to only 14 dishes with a wine list scrawled on a brown paper sack. Where had I seen that before?
Then I remembered: It had the same paper bag wine list and easygoing atmosphere as Malatesta, a favorite Italian spot in the West Village for 23 years. It turns out the owners of Macosa — opened three months ago on Tompkins Street in central Bedford-Stuyvesant — are Emanuele Attala, Salvatore Gandolfo, and Colin Hagendorf. Attala, a longtime chef and current co-owner at Malatesta, also opened the Lower East Side restaurant Spaghetti Incident in 2015, which is also still open, with a mainly-spaghetti menu. Would the food here be as good as its two predecessors? Well, it was even better.
Macosa is more attuned to seasonal ingredients, much as any good Tuscan restaurant would be. We realized this the moment the panzanella ($14) — itself a Tuscan classic — hit the table. The bread arrived in big hunks, each with the right combo of crunch and squish. There were a handful of capers, too, and purple onions, which vied with the olive oil and fresh basil to dominate the mellow flavor. But all these paled in comparison to the heirloom tomatoes, which had a sharpness and sugary sweetness, showcased at the start of their short season.
Indeed, the antipasti were a treasure chest of riches. A plate of forest-green Castelvetrano olives were further flavored with orange peel; a ball of burrata served with charred apricots, salsa verde, and grilled bread that soaked up all the cheese and its run-off; while a seafood fritto misto ($18) jumbling squid, cod, and shrimp cooked to a golden brown came with a wonderfully oily condiment of bright red Calabrian chiles. The sauce was so good that we found ourselves dipping the shards of breading that had sifted to the bottom of the bowl into it.
As at Malatesta, the pastas ($15 to $25) command twice as much space on the menu as the larger main courses. And it was hard to pick from among the four offered. We followed the commonsense rule in places that concentrate on pastas of ordering two pastas plus one secondi for three people, and selected perhaps the most conventional in the former category — broad floppy pappardelle in an oxtail ragu. The ragu had resolved itself into a brown mantle that thickly carpeted the sauce, with a meatiness that would please any carnivore.
Our second pasta was the Sicilian classic rigatoni Norma, a 19th-century commemoration of an opera of the same name by Vincenzo Bellini, the recipe originating in the city of Catania. The thick rigatoni cooked al dente was heaped upon lush slices of fried eggplant unencumbered by bread crumbs. I recalled past versions I’ve ordered where there were fewer and smaller chunks of the purple vegetable, but here, the eggplant ruled. The top of the pasta was showered with ricotta salata, salty and pale, rather than the parmesan one might find on pastas originating further north in Italy.
Both pastas were excellent, and served in generous quantities, but we naturally wondered about the other two we didn’t try. One was another Sicilian selection, a spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs; the other a much more Roman dish of gnocchi flavored with mint, basil, and almonds. We were nearly full already when our third course arrived, a huge pounded veal cutlet with a bone protruding from one end ($29). It was beautiful to look at and succulent to bite into, with a slight crunch courtesy of the breading. The portion was easily enough for three, taking into account what we’d eaten so far.
And what to choose from the paper-bag wine list? Identified by grape, half the list is devoted to wines of the inexpensive house-wine sort, with more whites than reds available by the glass, half liter, and liter. No glass was more than $11 and most were $7 or $8 for a decent-size pour. There were also 10 bottles in the more-expensive section, ranging from $41 to $65. We splurged on a bottle of organic Outis Nessuno ($63) from the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, an amber-colored white blend made from the local Carricante, Cataratto, and Minnella grapes, subtle and acidic and tasting of its volcanic soil. And we weren’t surprised when it went especially well with the panzanella and rigatoni Norma, both sweet dishes that benefitted from the wine’s dryness and fullness.
Well satisfied, we walked out into the evening around 10 p.m., noting that the neighborhood was hopping at this hour, with many customers still sitting in its outdoor cafes.