In a bow to the location's history, Shannon and Rocco Scordella named their place for university namesake Leland Stanford Junior's dog (did you follow that?) and opened the red bricked restaurant six months ago. Both Scordellas have worked in fine dining in New York, and Chef Rocco, who originally hails from Puglia and Bologna, Italy, was brought to New York by Mario Batali to work at Del Posto.
Unfortunately, we kept wanting to go for dinner, which they don't serve -- though Shannon did tell us on a recent visit that they might move to small plates and an enoteca-type setting -- so most of our half-hearted efforts were thwarted until I was in the hospital with a days-old baby. Mathra called me from Tootsie's to read off their menu -- I had my laptop in the hospital (of course!) but their website doesn't seem to be operational -- and he didn't get past, "fried chicken sandwich."
Man. That sandwich. That SANDWICH! That sandwich isn't just a sandwich. It's a crispy-succulent soul reviver, topped with endive-caper slaw and snugged between two halves of a crusty bun. After getting only two hours of sleep in the 48 hours that followed Henry's birth, that sandwich saved my sanity and kept me from going all Yellow Wallpaper in the maternity ward.
I've been home from the hospital for two weeks, and I've had that sandwich -- along with the accompanying homemade oregano potato chips -- five times. If that sandwich was the only thing they served, I still would think Tootsie's was worth it. However, good thing for everyone else (who have enough sense to take me at my word and run, don't walk, to Tootsie's), they also have a brilliant agrumi salad with butter lettuce, radish, celery, grapefruit segments, and shaved fennel; and a white bean, fennel, and flaked tuna salad with the springiest, most pristine arugula outside of Chez Panisse's crisper.
A very recent trip had us trying a brand new menu item: octopus and farro salad with celery and carrots, a divine dish that Rocco told us was his mother's recipe from Puglia. On the same trip, we sampled an Italian sausage and roasted pepper sandwich on a thick bun that was slabbed over with broccoli pesto and light touches of mustard; both were delicious dishes I hope I see often on the menu.
For breakfast, I will clog my arteries as frequently as I can with their poached egg on thick toast. Sound prosaic? What if I tell you that the poached egg is topped with celery, olives, and a drizzle of olive oil?
Some day I plan to try their crêpe-esque ricotta pancakes with strawberries, but I'm having a hard time tearing myself away from that poached egg. I also had a bite of their veal-pork burger with olives and oregano ground right into the meat and slathered with caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese. I wonder if anyone will believe me when I say that the shoestring potatoes Tootsie's serves with that burger are better than those found at Zuni Cafe?