In my experience, Mario Batali never gets it wrong. (I’m talking food here, not orange crocs) His restaurants are all successful and consistently crowded, and for very good reason. The food is delicious!
This past weekend I went to Lupa in the West Village and had a wonderful time. The food was incredible, the company enjoyable and I loved the look and feel of the restaurant. Dining in NYC can be a crowded experience at the best of times, but the room and our table in particular was pretty spacious. That was a rare treat in and of itself!
As you might be aware, an Italian dinner is made up of a few courses: Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, and Dolci. We decided to go for the full experience and ordered a dish for every course.
First came the Antipasti: We ordered the Clams and Fregola, and house-made Coppa Cotta (cured and cooked pork).
The clams and fregola were surprisingly fresh and vibrant from the basil and citrus juice, and paired well with my Chardonnay. I learned of the Sardinian pasta, fregola, through an episode of ‘Everyday Italian’ with Giada de Laurentiis and have been a fan every since. It’s really not an easy pasta to find, but is very unique and delicious. I bought it once in Little Italy, and would encourage you to try it if you ever find it at the market.
The house-made Coppa Cotta that we devoured was insanely good. It was slightly spicy, very meaty, and made with pork shoulder. We felt clever making open-faced sandwiches with it, and the complimentary Focaccia.
The next course was pasta, and we ordered the Cacio & Pepe, a traditional Roman pasta dish, and the Ricotta Gnocchi.
The Cacio & Pepe was made with only bavette pasta, pecorino and black pepper. So simple, yet so good. When a dish is so perfectly executed, you don’t need many ingredients to make it shine. It was creamy, salty, peppery, and somehow silky. It was just delicious and there wasn’t a stray noodle to be found when I was done with it.
The Ricotta Gnocchi came with sausage and fennel. It was classic, comforting and rich. Just what a good gnocchi dish should be.
Finally, came the third course. What I typically think of as the meat course, though I actually ordered fish this time.
We had the Pollo alla Diavola and the market fish of the day, Sea Bass, that came with sunchokes, broccolini, and grapefruit. I understand that ‘alla Diavolo’ means ‘Devil style’, and while this was definitely devilishly tasty, I didn’t find it all that spicy. The crunchy, crispy crust of the chicken was perfection and the au jus that the waiter poured over top kept the chicken moist and was divine when sopped up by the crispy bread underneath. A definite must-try.
The sea bass was one of the best executions of the fish that I’ve seen. The crispy skin kept the white flesh underneath tender, moist and flavorful. This was my first sunchoke experience, and was a bit put off initially because the first one I tried was underdone and still slightly raw tasting. The rest though, were roasted to perfection – caramelized and sweet. I didn’t think the grapefruit added much, but it didn’t hurt either.
The only thing I would change, would be the fact that the ‘sunchoke, broccolini, grapefruit’ accompaniments are always companion to the fish of the day, however, the fish changes daily. I think it would benefit them to cater the sides to the particular fish they’re offering. I’m sure there are some sides that pair better with one fish than another.
Lastly, of course, came dessert. We were a little hesitant to order anything since I had pots of creme just waiting to be brulee’ed at home, but we couldn’t resist just one shared finale to our meal.
We went with the Olive Oil Torta with Rhubarb. It’s hard to describe how much I enjoyed this dessert, so I’ll just do my best and hope I do it justice.
The torta itself was steaming hot from the oven, moist enough that I am almost certain they injected some sort of olive oil simple syrup into the cake at some point, and perfectly sweet. The rhubarb compote was jammy, tart, and reminded me of my late grandmother’s rhubarb pie filling. When a dish can bring you back to a point in your past, it’s a really special moment, and yet another reason why sharing food is such a precious art.
Lupa is now pegged as a favorite spot of mine here in New York and I will be going back often. Enjoy!