218 Lafayette St
(between Kenmare St & Spring St)
New York, NY 10012
We had a big dinner here to celebrate J.P.’s birthday. M.C. and J.H. organized everything and J.H. even crafted a set family-style menu ($80 each) so that we could try a bit of everything. If it weren’t for this family-style meal, I probably would have had only two things: free bread and pasta. After having tried half of their menu now, I can say that the free bread and pasta were the highlights of my meal anyway and will probably be the things I have the next time I’m there. I’m thinking of starting a “free bread” ranking… to rank the restaurants with the best free bread. If a restaurant takes the time and energy to serve you warm, delicious, buttery rosemary rolls, or in the case, airy light focaccia drenched in olive oil, you start the meal with a smiling face and happy belly. Only good things can ensue. Thoughts?
We started with the Five-Choice Crostini (normally priced at $28), which consisted of towers of crostini, also drenched in olive oil, and five different types of dip. From left to right: 1) fresh pea, fava bean, mint & crispy speck; 2) smoked trout, olives, and sour cream; 3) roasted beets, shallots, and ricotta (which the waiter made sure to pronounce as rhee-KOE-DA); 4) buffalo ricotta and nepitella pesto; 5) veal crudo and tonnato. It was nice to see that the kitchen paid such close attention to every dip. It was clear that every single one was crafted with care and meant to shine on its own. Not one was just thrown in as a filler. My favorite was the smoked trout, olives, and sour cream. It was like a tuna salad on crack. The smoked trout was so smokey in flavor and went very well with the slight tartness of the olives. Sour cream added an extra creaminess that mayo alone couldn’t provide.
We also had the Polpettine Prosciutto and Mortadella (a large Italian sausage) Meatballs baked in tomato sauce (normally priced at $10). I did not know that the meatballs were made with prosciutto and mortadella during dinner as I never saw a menu and definitely wasn’t able to distinguish the unique meats through taste. I do remember the meatballs being extremely robust. Each ball was hearty as hell and very tasty, though it could have been a bit more tender. Parisi Bakery’s meatballs still win in my book. We also had the Insalata Mista (normally priced at $12), which was a mixed green salad with spring vegetables, salumi, and parmigiano. The spring vegetables were pickled, which I happen to like a lot. However, the dressing itself was a strong vinaigrette; once combined with the pickles, seemed a bit too sour overall.
We then had three kinds of pastas, though I was only able to capture two because by the time the third got to my side of the table, it was almost completely demolished. Pictured left is the Garganelli pasta quills with cream, radicchio, truffle butter, prosciutto, and peas (normally priced at $20). This is what I was originally going to order if we did not do family-style because I always make tomato based pastas at home and wanted a cream pasta. The combination of truffle butter, prosciutto, and peas made it seem like a winner. Unfortunately, it did not quite live up to its expectations. I’d probably rate it a 6/10, with 5 being quite good and 10 being a pasta worth traveling to Italy for. It was not quite creamy enough… I think it would have tasted better with more parmigiano, not only to creamify but also to spruce up the flavors. I also barely tasted the truffle, and by barely, I mean I didn’t.
Pictured right is the Creste pasta (pronounced CRAY-stay) with shrimp, seppia ragú, and fava beans (normally priced at $20). This was actually my favorite and probably one of the best seafood-esque pastas I’ve had. The creste pasta was new to me… it is shaped like the “crest of a rooster” which sounds quite unappetizing so I’ll leave it at curved-shape. It was chewy and slightly tubular, which was great for capturing the delicious seafood infused sauce. I loved the addition of the gigantic fava beans. Fava beans are buttery and slightly bitter in flavor. It grounded the seafood flavor and added a nice texture.
After the pastas, we had the Branzino, which included grilled Mediterranean sea bass fillets, salsa verde, market beans, and tomato sofrito (normally priced at $29). I don’t enjoy fillets as I do whole fish in general so this definitely did not match up to Bohemian’s branzino. The dish also seemed fragmented, as if the vegetables were made and the fillets were cooked and just thrown together on a plate, rather than cooked together. The fillet was definitely fresh though just slightly overcooked in my opinion. You can never go wrong with roasted tomatoes… they always contribute lots of flavor and juices. The best part of the dish was probably the sliced potatoes that were creamy and naturally sweet.
For our carne, we had the Braciola, which included grilled duroc end-cut pork chop, fingerling potatoes, greens olives, and a side of roasted peaches (normally priced at $28). I didn’t see the peaches listed on the actual menu so imagine this was a special addition; it is peach season after all! The peaches really made this dish much more spectacular that it would have been. Sweet things like dates and apples always go well with pork. The sweetness and juiciness of the summer peach helped bring out the flavors of the pork and made up for the dryness of some of the pieces. We had a variety of cuts of the pork chop and some were definitely overcooked. But ah.. the peaches. Must go pick some up before the season ends. My favorite pork chop thus far is from Little Owl in the West Village. It’s served with parmesan butter beans and wild dandelion…
For sides, we had the Grilled Asparagus Parmigiano (normally priced at $10) and the Buttered Spinach (normally priced at $9 – was not able to get a picture). Both sides were very good, just not particularly special. Asparagus was fresh and not stringy at all. Spinach was mushy and buttery, but having had Peter Luger’s spinach, this one didn’t compare. Peter Luger’s spinach tasted much more tender and probably had some kind of spinach concentrate added because it was bursting with flavor.
For dessert, we had the Zuppa Inglese (layers of chocolate cake and chocolate zabaione garnished with raspeberries and mint – $11), Torta Di Olio (olive oil cake, blueberries, yogurt or ricotta gelato – $10), and a variety of Gelati E Sorbetti ($8 for three scoops).
The meringue cup was sweet, creamy, and red and green… I’ve noticed that a lot of Italian desserts are red and green… patriotism maybe? I loved the olive oil cake because it was not too sweet and oddly dense and light at the same time. The gelati and sorbetti were all very flavorful and homemade tasting. We sampled the caramel-biscotti, mocha chip, and had the blueberry lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser. The caramel-biscotti was not too sweet and almost a little bitter from the natural caramel. Mocha chip was like a shock to the system because it tasted like raw chocolate and raw espresso. Very good alternative to coffee at the end of a meal. Blueberry lemon sorbet was very light and tart, other than the fact it stained all of our lips blue, it was good and served its purpose.
Overall, this feast was hearty, appetizing, and satisfying. I was glad I was able to sample so many items, but like I mentioned earlier, will probably skip the pesce and carne and just have the pasta here. There are restaurants with better fish and pork chop options. Their bread is also truly amazing, something I would buy at a bakery.