Po

by Susan on November 9, 2007

[Food:4/5]

Po has all the characteristics to earn it a spot on your list of favorite casual restaurants. The only obvious problem, at this popular place with fewer than fifteen tables, is that securing a reservation requires some forethought (sometimes up to 30 days of forethought). Ironically, this problem is just further proof of how much is done right in this intimate dining room with white walls lit softly with sconces and a charming, tin-pressed ceiling. You even have to be lucky (or arrive early) to grab one of the four stools at the miniscule bar. However, once you do dine at this delectable Italian, you’ll experience a meal so satisfying and atmosphere so cozy, you’ll be tempted to make your next reservation before you button your coat.

I had actually been to Po a few months ago (before I started writing for this website) and had an experience as equally wonderful to the one I had last night. One of the most amazing things about Po is the generous portions that are offered at affordable and reasonable prices. Service also has a certain charm. Last night, our server was soft-spoken and attentive. Our water glasses were always full and our plates were always cleared at the most appropriate of moments.

Before you even order, a treat is brought to the table in the form of white bean bruschetta. One slice of bread, charred with grill marks, is provided for each diner. Dense and elegant white beans, cooked just past al-dente are dressed in olive oil and garlic and spooned atop the crusty bread. The result is hearty, flavorful, and stunning. After one bite, your fingers fly back to the serving plate for any stray beans that might have fallen from their respective piles. After two bites you’ll strongly consider ordering another plate of these delightful nibbles as your starter.

Privy to the sizable entrée portions, and curious about a couple of the side dishes, we opted for two starter salads to split amongst the four of us. Both salads featured fresh ingredients and a level of inventiveness. The special salad included pine nuts, red onions, radicchio, and a pancetta vinaigrette. The red onions were almost overpowering, but their strength was tempered well by the nuts and radicchio. The pancetta dressing added just the right amount of bacon infused oil and vinegar, though our table of bacon lovers didn’t feel as though the actual bites of pancetta offered a significant addition.  The goat cheese tartufo, ordered off the menu, was a ball of soft chevre well paired with a creative slaw of radicchio and endive. The menu description promised a taste of black olive, and though one could see it, dark and ground, in a neat layer inside the cheese, it was no match for the strong pickled taste of the slaw.

If you dine at Po and the guinea hen is on the menu, I implore that someone in your dining party order this succulent dish. The hen is served as two de-boned legs, each pressed flat into a half inch block by a brick that sits atop them during the grilling process. The result of this unique preparation is moist fowl, dark with flavor. A thin layer of skin is hardly noticeable, though it imparts texture into each bite. Last night, the hen was served with an Autumn-inspired mix of pearl-sized couscous and al dente squares of pumpkin. This accompaniment, with its inherently mild flavors, complements the heft of the meat and provides great balance to the texture of this scrumptious dish. While the guinea hen was the stand-out, both the veal marsala and veal sweetbread entrees sang their own distinct tunes. The marsala arrived in three, ultra-thin, oblong pieces. The veal was breaded only slightly, the coarse coat acting like a sponge for the rich sauce, deep in flavor. There was a slight hint of truffle oil, though unfortunately, not in every bite. Crimini mushrooms and shallots were halved, leaving hearty pieces, slightly-softened by cooking. The veal sweetbreads, cut into quarter-sized morsels were sautéed to a molasses brown. Each bite was delicate but meaty. The mountain of glass noodle-like spaghetti squash adds just the right amount of crunch and sweetness.     

Though the menu described the side of potatoes as pan-fried, we were almost certain that these outstanding cubes were indeed, deep fried. Every bit of surface area was a crispy, golden brown. While the potatoes were also expertly seasoned, the broccoli rabe suffered slightly from a lack of salt. The dark green stalks are sprinkled with breadcrumbs, an aesthetically appealing addition that also lends texture.

In Italian, affogato means “drowned”. When a dessert is served “affogato-stye” is usually indicates that espresso has been poured over the confection. In Po’s affogato, cappuccino is poured into a tall glass, submerging coffee gelato as well as chocolate and caramel sauce. The result is a cold and refreshing liquid that falls somewhere between a drink and melted ice cream. It might aptly be described as the Italian take on an ice cream soda. It was not the best item for sharing, but it was so good, none of us were shy about dipping in our spoons, over and over again. The ricotta cheesecake is soft, delicate and mild. The drizzling of maple syrup and sprinkling of powdered sugar further please the palate.

Need I write more? Go. And go quickly.

Po
www.porestaurant.com
31 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 645-2189

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