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For weary veterans of the New York dining scene, Gemma, which opened in June 2007 in a bunkerlike annex next to the Bowery Hotel, is a more familiar kind of Italian restaurant. It’s that peculiar big-city hybrid—let’s call it the “Italian brasserie”—modeled after the popular French-style brasseries opened by Keith McNally and his numerous imitators. There is a copper-covered bar up front, which fills up in the evenings with mobs of jolly, overtanned revelers, grinning their toothy end-of-summer grins. The eating rooms are carefully contrived to convey equal parts rustic, old-shoe comfort (thatched wine bottles hanging from rafters, half-burned candelabra, farm-style tables made from distressed wood) and chic bonhomie. The menu is a grab bag, not of regional Italian cuisines but of market-tested, consumer-approved styles. There are fashionable crudi, crunchy crostini, and wood-fired pizzas, and even a selection of Italian cheeses replete with tasting notes printed on the menu in a flowery French manner. There’s an awful lot about Gemma, in fact, that echoes Keith McNally’s own Italian brasserie, Morandi. At Gemma, however, the rooms are slightly more commodious, the service is slightly less chaotic, and the menu is less busy and more manageable, albeit in a predictable way. This is especially true among the smaller dishes like the crudi (try the sea bass) and the antipasti (the fritto misto dusted with frizzled lemon zest is my favorite). The pastas (rigatoni with chunky pieces of ham, lobster ravioli) aren’t wonderful, but they’re serviceable. The “secondi” items were better than that, especially the brick-flattened chicken (which is a quarter more expensive than its equivalent at Bar Stuzzichini), and the nicely salty rib-eye bistecca, which was so large, none of the party hounds at my table could finish it. — Adam Platt
The proprietors are the same people who brought you the no-reservations policy at the Waverly Inn. So unless you’re a guest of the Bowery Hotel or a party of 12 or more, you have to show up and hope for the best.
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