Okay, okay, so I didn't actually have lunch with Mario Batali, but I was lucky enough to eat at his restaurant Lupa during my visit to NYC a few weekends ago. Lupa is located in SoHo, and Lauren and I went for lunch on my first full day in New York. (Apparently, doing lunch at Lupa is super-hip, just like us!)
Before I get to the glorious details of this meal, I must offer a warning: this was an incredible meal, so incredible that I am sometimes at a loss for words for how to describe it ("YOU are at a loss for words?!", I hear you cry, and yes, it's a rare occasion but in this case it's true.) You've been warned!
It was a beautiful sunny day in the City, and Lupa is a bright, warm space. When we arrived, the hostess (named Erin, natch) gave us a choice between sitting in the more formal back room, or in the sunny, bustling front room (note: it's good to compliment the hostess on her fabulous eyeglasses - she'll treat you well and give you choices!). We chose the front room.
We were seated at a small but comfortable table for two right in the middle of the action. Then we ordered cocktails. We both ordered Bellinis (Prosecco with fresh peach puree), and then our adorable waitress (named Vicky - why does everyone in this restaurant have one of my names?) brought out some rosemary focaccia and olive oil.
The foccacia was awesome - very intense rosemary flavor and even before I dipped it in olive oil, it was leaking olive oil onto my fingers - now that's good bread. The olive oil, as you can probably guess, was also amazingly delicious and fruity.
After reviewing the extensive menu, complete with a glossary of terms on the back (since almost the entire menu is in Italian), Lauren and I came up with a game-plan. We decided to order three antipasti, one primi, and one secondi and share everything (of course). Here's what we ordered:
- Baccala with potatoes and lovage
- Proscuitto di parma and salumi
- Crostino with bone marrow and roasted apple (a special that day)
- Ricotta Gnocchi with sausage and fennel
As I mentioned before, everything we had was spectacular. The Baccala, which is a dish composed of salt cod, potatoes, olive oil, and herbs, was very flavorful and rich, but still light (which I attribute to its being served cold). Over the past few months I have been getting over my fear of things that taste fishy (as evidenced by my newfound love of white anchovies), and I'm so glad I have, since this dish had a bit of fishiness, but once you get over that, you can really enjoy all of the wonderful fresh flavors of the dish.
Next, we tried the proscuitto di parma and the salumi. If you look at the menu, it looks like you can only order one of their Carne, but then Vicky told us we could try two, and of course that's exactly what we did. The proscuitto di parma was delicious (and we saw the lady slicing it on the slicer almost right in front of us!) and melted in your mouth. The salumi was intensely flavored (reminded me of sopresatta a bit) and was nice and greasy.
The last dish we had in our first course, the Crostino with Roasted Apple and Marrow, was probably one of the best things I ate all weekend. No, scratch that - one of the best things I've eaten EVER. Holy crap, you guys. This is where I cannot express in words how good it was. But, I will try.
The crostino was a large slice of bread (probably 1.5 inches thick) which had been grilled and then bone marrow smothered on top. Now, this may gross some of you out, but bone marrow is actually quite delicious. It's like animal fat but with a bit different flavor. I have only had marrow a few other times, such as when I've eaten Osso Bucco, and when I used to make Pitcha (calf's foot jelly) with my Grandma Irma back in the day. (Pitcha is, in my opinion, super-gross, and the marrow was the only good part about having to make it for my Dad, Grandpa, and Uncles!).
Anyway, alongside the crostino was a grilled apple (golden delicious?). When the delicious bread and the sweet and tart apple were eaten together, it was absolutely heavenly. This dish was also served with a salad of flat-leaf parsley, which was also very good. I am not always a fan of straight up parsley (thanks to years of Passover seders), but this was delicious.
Okay, moving on. Next course was the Gnocchi. Lauren says this is a staple for her to order since it is a recipe her grandmother makes. For me, however, gnocchi remind me of a terrible pre-Homecoming Dance meal (sophomore year of HS I think?) where the gnocchi were like little lead bullets. Ever since I have been turned off by them since they are always too dense and gummy. Thank you, Lupa, for changing my mind about gnocchi! These gnocchi were like little pillows of heaven, little light clouds of ricotta and goat cheese.
They were perfect. They were also not made with eggs, just flour and cheese. They were tossed in a bit of tomato sauce which had little bits of sausage in it. These were also a big favorite of the day.
For our secondi, we ordered the Saltimbocca (literally, "to jump in the mouth" - this provided endless joke material as we were eating it). This was also quite delicious. Saltimbocca is veal with proscuitto and sage, and this was cooked so you could really taste all of those elements. Also, hiding underneath the veal was a delicious sautee of escarole, with garlic and oil - yummmmm.
After these courses (we're up to 3 by now), we decided we wanted some dessert. But, we also wanted cheese. What to do?! Get both, that's what. We ordered an aged goat cheese called Caprino Stagionato, which was firm but still had the granular-ness of a fresh goat cheese. It was served with a few slices of crusty bread and some sort of fruit mash (maybe cherry?). Our waitress guided us on this one and it was awesome.
For our next dessert, we got the lemon sorbetto (sorry, no good pics of this). This was just what we wanted at the end of our lovely meal - it was sweet, tart, bright, and clean. Lauren had a cappuccino, and when I asked for coffee, our waitress said they only do espresso-based drinks, but she could make me an Americano (espresso and water), so that's what I did. It was delicious - very strong and robust, and nice against the sorbetto.
One last thing I have to say about Lupa was that our service was impeccable. Everyone who we interacted with was friendly and efficient, and our waitress was an expert on everything, and guided us in all the right directions.
Three hours after we went into Lupa, we emerged into the sunshine again. What a meal. That's all I can say.