I was speechless and thrilled when MAX, my favorite Italian from Avenue B, opened their uptown outpost, MAX Soha, convenient to both my home and work. I still love MAX... when I want to deal with it (its popularity, and occasionally the snooty attitude of its hostesses, followed it uptown).
So when Pisticci, the new joint, opened near us, we were skeptical. Could it live up to MAX? The answer is: no, but that's not what it's there for.
Pisticci is a cozy basement space with a cute sidewalk cafe at street level. The menu has reliable standbys (fettucine with wild mushrooms, chicken grilled in sage served under a bed of arugula, polenta with meatballs, to name a few), some dishes that are trying to compete with its more esteemed competition a few blocks away (like the pasta with lamb ragu, which is done much better at MAX), but the specials can really knock your socks off. The other night, for example, I had sauteed chicken with artichoke hearts, and it was exceptional.
We've brought our parents (tough restaurant customers, and none of them enamored of MAX) several times and they always love it. We've come with small kids and it's never a problem.
It's not exactly on the beaten path, but if you find yourself near Grant's Tomb with an appetite, it's the best place I can think of.