When it comes to restaurants in New York City, I’m a big fan of the unassuming, neighborhood gems that are discovered by word of mouth or happenstance. But sometimes, a more well-known restaurant has such compelling reviews that you just have to see for yourself if its worth all the hype.
With 4.5 stars on Yelp!, a 93% Urbanspoon rating, a 9.0 on Immaculate Infatuation, and a 27/30 Zagat Rating…L’Artusi had managed to peak this Italian’s interest. So the little West Village spot became the destination of this week’s date with Peter.
Even on a Tuesday night, the restaurant was booked solid with reservations, not to mention filled with beautiful people. Definitely a place to see and be seen. Dimmed lights, good music…loud enough to be a scene, but not so much that you can’t hold a conversation.
Luckily, they have plenty of bar space for impatience guests. In addition to a standard bar, they have a cheese bar and a chef’s bar overlooking the kitchen. We sat at the chef’s bar in the back, watching one woman meticulously caramelize bananas for an hour. Word of advice…don’t come hungry if you plan on sitting at the chef’s bar!
After my initial scan of the menu, I was paralyzed by all the choices. The chefs have chosen to create a modern take on many of your traditional Italian dishes. I like my tradition, so I was skeptical…but everything coming out of the chef’s bar looked so good…
Rather than having to select one option from the array of possible candidates, Peter and I decided we would create our own prix fixe menu to share. We do this a lot, not because we can’t make decisions, but because it’s the best way to eat! If you’re on a date, or even out with a friend, sharing a few dishes gives you the opportunity to try more than one thing, without being too full, or spending too much.
Letting the reviews decide for us, we picked some of most highly recommended dishes on the menu. The Roasted Mushrooms as our starter, the Orecchiette as our pasta, the Charred Octopus for our main course, and the Bittersweet Chocolate Budino for dessert.
Where do I begin?! I was sold on my first bite.
The Roasted Mushrooms (top left) were out of this world. But then again, isn’t anything that has a fried egg on it? There was no shortage of garlic in this mushroom and pancetta dish. And as if the salty richness of those two ingredients wasn’t enough, they sprinkled it with ricotta salata and topped it off with a fried egg. The cracked yolk tied all the complex flavors together, and made me wish I had seconds.
Next was an ear shaped pasta, covered in a lamb sausage and salumi sauce, and topped with pecorino. Their Orecchiette (top right), a dish who’s name in Italian literally means “small ear”, took a unique twist to a more traditional bolognese sauce, and was cooked to a perfect al dente.
Charred Octopus (bottom left) came next, served with a mix of potatoes, olives, chilies and pancetta. Octopus can be very temperamental, but this was grilled to perfection, a perfect balance between the crispy outside and tender center. There was no need for complex seasonings in this dish, as all of the flavors held their own on the backdrop of a bit of lemon and olive oil.
We should have stopped there, but after watching the chef nearest us make desserts all night, we had to at least looooook at the dessert menu. And once we looked, we couldn’t say no…so we ordered the Bittersweet Chocolate Budino (bottom right) as our final course. Budino is basically a pudding, and this was topped with vanilla cream and a chocolate-honey crisp. My only critique is there should have been about 10 more spoonfuls.
Although we were MORE than satisfied with our choices, I’m already secretly awaiting my next excuse to go back and try other things on the menu.
This may seem bold, because I’m an Italian with high standards, but L’Artusi not only lived up to its hype, but also surpassed my expectations. It could be the best Italian restaurant I’ve been to in the city to date! I might go so far as to say.. it was one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in all of New York City. It was that good.
I may just have to break my ‘no repeats’ rule and go back soon.
Who’s coming with me??