Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Sweet to Taste the Amari at L’Artusi

A nice plate of lamb
L’Artusi, in New York City’s West Village seeks to “demystify” Italy, though I hadn’t been aware that Italian cuisine was all that mysterious. The restaurant is lively with happy sound, or as some might call it, noisy. Despite this, it is more spacious than Lupa; no worrying that you’re going to bring the next table down should you get up from your seat. And, although the food and atmosphere at L’Artusi is much more casual, the waitstaff is much more formal. “Yes, sir.” “Certainly, sir.” I’m not knocking the experience; when you go an shell out your cash on a meal, it’s nice to be treated as someone who might enjoy a touch of deference.

The runners made one mistake that the wait staff quickly rectified. James and I both ordered salads; I additionally ordered the beef carpaccio. My salad and the beef came at the same time. I caught the attention of the hostess and asked that the carpaccio be parked somewhere cold until we were ready for it. “Certainly not, we’ll make you a fresh one when you’re ready for it.” The salads were immense. James’s resembled a great shaggy mountain with the cheese that was grated on it. We were able to finish these, then the table was cleared and a carpaccio appeared ready for us to share. It worked better after the salads anyway.

James had grilled octopus with roasted potatoes. This was a superb dish. He particularly liked that they had brought it up to the main dish category, instead of relegating it to the appetizers. I had fettuccine with a lamb ragù, a nicely executed Neapolitan ragù. Because I’m a total grouch about such things, I had the waitress remove the (superfluous) spoon, as I am quite capable of eating fettuccine with just a fork (spoons are for those who lack the dexterity to dress themselves). It was a good dish.

Vegetables were done as side dishes (though reasonably priced). The snap peas with spring onion, garlic, and mint were excellent and had us thinking that we needed to make more liberal use of mint, but the broccoli rage with garlic, chilies, and bread crumbs were dominated by the chilies. This was a dish for someone who loved chilies and hated broccoli rabe; the main item was totally overpowered by the supporting one.

I made the wrong choice on dessert. Our waitress loved their hazelnut chocolate torta, me not so much (though enough that I ate all of it). James had their olive oil cake, which was a better dessert. Me, I’m waiting for the restaurant that makes a torta di riso, but I know I wait in vain.

Now the fun part. On the drinks menu there was the option of three tastings of amari. Between the two of us, that would be six amari, but we needed to consult with the bartender. We like these, those not so much, bring us ones we have never tasted before. He brought six glasses and bottles to our table; when we realized we had had one two nights before, another bottle was substituted. Then he told us about each one.

Amari, not specifically
Italian for "yummy"
I won’t go into my full tasting notes. He described Del Capo as “like Jaegermeister,” and I’ll have to take his word for it. Mild and very herbal, it was the only one served chilled. The Braulio, from Lombardi, is my new favorite amaro, until someone pours one I like better. The Meletti was like Nonino in flavor, but with a very hot finish. The Varnelli Sibilla had a very hot nose which overpowered its vegetal notes. It was beyond Fernet Branca.

The couple at the next table was curious about what we were drinking (with six bottles on the table). At point, I suggested they take a sniff of one, just to appreciate the herbal notes of it. They were intrigued. I was happy to get a few more amari down my throat to better appreciate the category.
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