Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lupa, Satisfying Food at Close Quarters

I would have happily eaten more.
Before we walked to Lupa, Mario Batali’s “Osteria Romana” in Greenwich Village, we checked out Eric Asimov’s review in The New York Times. Shorter Asimov: Lupa is inconveniently crowded. That was certainly true, but first let’s get there.

We walked over. Things seemed quiet. No line. We read the menu. Ninety-minute wait for a table. We were advised to check back in about a half hour. We wandered about for a bit, returning to the restaurant about a half hour later. We were told it would be another forty-five minutes, but they actually sat us about fifteen minutes later. Were it not New York, I’d probably worry about starting dinner past 10 at night. Not so much a problem here. I did notice, however, that the restaurant did clear out while we were having our dinner. We weren’t the last to be seated, but we were a late seating.

We were shown to a table right next to a passageway to a service area. Waitstaff came in and out of this for various reasons. The focaccia and olive oil were plated up here. After about the fifth time someone grazed my elbow, I suggested to James that we quietly move the table two inches closer to the next table. He offered to swap seats with me, but I pointed out that as he is larger than I am, he was only going to be a bigger target. Once we shifted out of the traffic path, I was bumped into no more. (And when the party at an adjacent table cleared out, that gave the staff even more room. I gave a silent thanks to the woman who admonished a gentleman in her party that “chairs don’t push themselves in.”)

We did better than the couple at the next table. A person at the table beyond theirs, returning to his seat accidentally knocked their salumi platter to the floor. The staff was very apologetic to the couple. They declined getting a replacement salumi platter, so I assume the restaurant simply took it off the bill.
Careful, you could choke someone
on those

We went for the chef’s Roman tasting with a wine pairing, and we added a small cheese course before the dessert. That meant four glasses of wine and a liqueur. We had some eating and drinking ahead. The first item was carciofi alla romana, Roman braised artichokes. James and I both thought of the other artichoke dish you get in Rome, carciofi all giudea, which are deep fried. These are braised. Mario Batali’s own recipe online doesn’t have any chili. This did and was a little hot for my taste. I felt the chili didn’t work well with the wine pairing, a Frascati Castel de Paolis.

The next course was rigatoni alls gricia. The rigatoni were perfect. James and I discussed whether this was a water and semolina pasta, or an egg pasta. I think egg pasta. The fat from the guanciale gave the sauce a buttery feel cut the pepper in the sauce. Here, the wine, a Capomole Marco Carpineti, went beautifully, although I was so entranced by the rigatoni, I forgot to drink my wine. When my bowl was empty, my glass was still reasonably full. I don’t want to be unfair to the strozzapreti with sugo finito, but it just couldn’t compete with its predecessor. It was a wonderful dish, the sauce on the “priest stranglers” mildly flavored by the guanciale that had been cooked in it. It suffered only by not being another bowl of rigatoni.

Photography by light of the
tea candle at the table
After two pastas, it was time for a secondo. The braised oxtail, coda alls vaccinara, was a fantastic dish that had James and I thinking both about oxtail and celery. I did not neglect the wine, a Cesanese del Piglio Corte dei Papi, which was every bit as yummy as the oxtail. The cheese course was nice, although I felt our cheeses could have been more readily distinguishable from each other. Two cheeses, both about the same. It came with a rhubarb conserve that was a delightful condiment that would have been a better paring with more distinctive cheeses.

Finally, a clash. I love amari in general, and the one they served with the dessert, Amaro CioCiaro, is one of my favorites. It was was a little too bitter to go well with their tartufo. I could think of some amari that might go better with the nuts, chocolate, and hazelnut ice cream, but no matter. I ate my dessert and had a nice glass of amaro afterwards as a digestivo. On the way out, we chatted with the bartender for a bit. I noted the clash. “Do you want your money back?” No, I had my value, as I said. We tried a drops of a few other amari, broadening our knowledge even further.

We left happy. Yes, it’s a crowded restaurant, but the food they serve there satisfies the senses, so I could cope with a little crowding.
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