Lupa

by Susan on December 2, 2007

[Food:3/5]

As we checked in with Lupa’s hostess for our 8pm reservation, a man ambled from the bar and inquired about the status of his table. “It has been about 20 minutes already and you said it would be 10 to 15,” he told the hostess. She, in a kind voice filled with pity replied, “I am so sorry, sir. I said it would be 10pm to 10:15pm before we will have a table. Not 10 to 15 minutes.” Welcome to Lupa my friend, welcome to Lupa.

Reserving a table at Lupa, Mario Batali’s West Village, Roman Trattoria, is almost as difficult as securing a table at Babbo. Plan ahead (very far ahead) or plan to settle in at the busy bar for a couple of drinks.  Our table was nestled in the back room, definitely the more quiet romantic area of the restaurant. The front room, which also holds the bar, is much livelier. Though our server was friendly and efficient, I’m fairly certain he never smiled.

Lupa’s menu is comprised of Antipasti, Primi, and Secondi. While there are less than ten items in each of the Primi and Secondi sections, one could create a feast from the Antipasti selection of cured meats (Salumi), Vegetables (Verdura), Fish (Pesce), and salads. A unique menu feature is the Glossary that fills the entire back cover. Even if your Italian is top notch, reading definitions and explanations of dozens of ingredients is quite fun. If your Italian is less than stellar, I imagine this handy guide saves your server from an inevitable barrage of questions. In addition to the printed menu, there are at least a handful of specials each night. After much discussion, we opted for three Antipasti dishes: Octopus, Eggplant, and Croquettes of pecorino, escarole, and prosciutto (a special that evening). These would be followed by the Ricotta Gnocchi and another evening special, Stuffed Quail as well as a side of roasted Cauliflower.

Batali is know for his Octopus, which he sequesters for mulitple days in a limoncello viniagrette before further preparation. The Octopus at Lupa was no exception. It was so tender, making its dense and meaty consistency especially impressive. A paste of chickpeas and sorrel coat the legs, imparting flavor and texture. The Marinated Eggplant was laden with olive oil and heavily spiced with red pepper flakes. The spice might be too much for the heat averse to overcome, but we found the oil-soaked, purple slices to be utterly divine. The twelve, marble-sized croquettes have an amazingly soft and delicate inside compared to their incredibly crunchy exterior. While good, these fried balls lacked gusto, and despite their impressive list of flavorful ingredients, they didn’t taste very different than falafel.

The Ricotta Gnocchi, non-uniform in shape and size, are fantastically airy. They come only slightly coated in a red paste of sausage and fennel, the goal presumably being not to overpower their light taste and texture. Unfortunately, someone in the kitchen gave this dish too many turns of the pepper mill, transforming almost every bite from palatable to piquant. The Stuffed Quail special, two quails swollen with prosciutto, pecorino, and bread stuffing, were laid atop polenta and hand leafed brussel sprouts. Skillfully seasoned and cooked, the meat was succulent and not gamey. The Cauliflower suffered from an abundance of salt and red pepper flake.

Genuine Tartufo can be difficult to find, and we were excited to spot it on the dessert menu. If someone was going to produce a solid Tartufo, it was going to be Mario. Flavors of hazelnut and chocolate are augmented with cherry and crushed biscotti. This dish is a winner. We also had an order of the Ricotta with Honey, a terrific combination of ingredients.

Our evening at Lupa was undeniably enjoyable, but though I’m not sure the food is worth a two hour wait. Lucky for us we had a reservation, but the next time I’m craving Italian thirty days in advance, it will be Babbo’s reservation line I’ll have on redial.

Lupa
www.luparestaurant.com
170 Thompson Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 982-5089

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