Modern Italian Prodigy Cooking Quietly in the East Village

Simone Bonelli, the boy wonder of the East Village.Photo: Joe DiStefano
Italian chefs have been talking up a newcomer doing great things in the East Village. Heed their word: At Perbacco, 26-year-old Simone Bonelli is producing some of the most elegant and progressive Italian food in the city. Bonelli joined Perbacco three months ago and worked previously for Italian superstar Massimo Bottura in the Michelin two-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena. Joël Robuchon and Heston Blumenthal are his culinary idols, but Bonelli is loyal to the fundamentals. “My cooking is about traditional Italian ingredients and tastes and techniques. But I just want to change things, mix them up,” he says. Bonelli’s menu at Perbacco includes a duo of caprese di bufala: one a tomato-water gelatin served with mozzarella cubes, the other a delicate napoleon of tomato confit, thin toast slices, and soft mozzarella di bufala. In a play on prosciutto and melon, Bonelli serves a fresh agnolotti filled with Parma ham and cantaloupe, which are then sautéed in a butter and mint sauce. Like the caprese, it sounds awful but is a minor revelation. Even in the most relatively traditional dishes, like the grilled swordfish, there is some striking modern element – in this case a caper gelato changing up the flavor and mouthfeel of the dish without ever breaking away from its classic elements. “I want to do things that haven’t been done before,” says Bonelli, who wants to eat at wd-50. “There should always be a surprise.”

Caprese alla Simone Bonelli.Photo courtesy Perbacco