Chef Michael Toscano serves near-perfect food at Le Farfalle (Charleston City Paper) Sep28


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Chef Michael Toscano serves near-perfect food at Le Farfalle (Charleston City Paper)

FullSizeRenderIf Le Farfalle were a person, you’d want to be seen with her. Soundtrack by Alabama Shakes, wardrobe by Ralph Lauren: She’s effortlessly cool and unquestionably popular, yet exerts a polished restraint. And then there’s the food. You see it and your heart sinks. Just look and you’ll understand. It’s not just friendship or even a girl crush anymore. Damn it, you no longer just want to be seen with Le Farfalle, you want to be Le Farfalle. And that’s totally understandable.

Take, for example, the octopus carpaccio ($14). Practically perfect in every way, Chef Michael Toscano cuts thin slices and carefully layers them into a veritable work of art. The fragrant olive oil hits first, followed by sharp black pepper, and bright lemon. The tender octopus flavor comes through last, lightly sweet and delicate in both taste and texture. I could live on this.

The funghi fritti ($10) colors outside the predominantly Italian lines. If you’ve ever eaten tempura vegetables and thought, “I wish someone would find a way to make this even more decadent,” then buy a lotto ticket, because this is your lucky day. Fresh shiitake mushrooms are tempura battered, crisply fried, and served layered with a sesame oil crema and black garlic vinegar glaze. Hedonistic as Caligula, yet decidedly Asian, this is a mashup that works.

FullSizeRenderThe crispy potato vinaigrette ($8) finds home-style chunks of crisp-fried spuds seasoned with vinegar powder, plus what appeared to be, at minimum, a fistful of fresh rosemary needles. With a fish and chips vibe, this clever side is tasty, but the overabundance of evergreen left me puzzled.

In contrast, the braised broccoli rabe ($7) is a time machine to your Italian (by way of New Jersey) grandma’s house. Tender, slightly bitter escarole is served muddled with soft, homey gigante beans and savory broth. It tastes like comfort, and it’s got me wondering if Le Farfalle’s neighbors are looking for a roommate, as I could also live on this. Or at least would like to try.

Service is very personable, even charismatic. Expect your dark denim-clad waiter to explain the specials and cheerfully crack some jokes. You may start to feel close to them, chummy even, but try not to get emotionally attached because once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Like a date that starts out hot and heavy, but then snubs you for someone else halfway through the party — Was it something I said? — on one occasion, my once-attentive waiter vanished shortly after the first course. Varying runners made sure the job ultimately got done, but the contrasting attention levels were hard to ignore.

FullSizeRenderNobody puts Baby in a corner, though, and if this is your experience, stiffen that lip and turn your attention back to the food. I recommend the bowl of linguine ($22). Freshly made and perfectly al dente, it tastes like the last days of summer. Ground conch, fresh basil leaves, and a hint of habanero peppers mingle with fresh cherry tomatoes, collapsed in juicy submission. In this minced form, the conch is hard to ascertain, offering just the slightest sweetness, along with a meaty heartiness.

The sorghum pappardelle ($19) puts the kitchen’s pasta-making skills on parade. The wide ribbons arrive coated with crisp pancetta and charred escarole. It’s luxuriant and balanced, with the perfect amount of salty bite added by the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. There you go again, Le Farfalle, making me love you.

The chicken picatta ($24) may threaten your very sanity, with a turducken-esque take on the Italian-American classic. A chicken breast is ensconced in thigh meat and cooked to a state of tenderness so supple, it will challenge everything you know about the “feel” of done meat. Glazed with a rich, lemony sauce punctuated by capers and served alongside mashed butter with a touch of potatoes, eat this every day at your own coronary risk. A poultry within a poultry: It’s like Inception, but less confusing.

FullSizeRenderLe Farfalle’s space itself is open and congenial. With its high ceilings, things can get extremely loud near the bar, but generous spacing between the tables keeps the sound anonymous, a muffled roar. The restaurant starts each meal with a sample of Parmigiano-Reggiano from the large wheel in the main dining room, the most striking thing of which is the vast space around it. The leeway is a revelation, as most restaurants would have crammed 10 more seats in the vacancy.

This same conscious restraint can be found in the whole branzino ($31), which was played by a red snapper during my visit. The whole fish is served with a slightly sour squash caponata, effectively involving every taste bud you’ve got. First up is the light char on the delicate flesh, followed by the tart lemon, and buttery pine nut sauce. Notably simple, every ingredient makes sense and complements the other. I could also live on this, but it may shorten my life expectancy due to pin bones. Good luck with that part — it’s maybe not so much a first date selection — but forge ahead anyway. It’s worth it.

FullSizeRenderWith nary a misstep and easily resolvable service issues, Le Farfalle’s offhandedly chic vibe and near-perfect food may very well turn you into a stalker, but once your friends meet her, they’ll help post bail.