Lupa, Feb. 24, 2005
170 Thompson St.
We went to Lupa Thursday night, just as a mini snow storm started in. I arrived at 6:40 and the place was pretty empty. A few tables in the back were taken, maybe 2 up front and 2 other people at the bar. By 6:59, the place was nearly packed. Wife arrived shortly thereafter and so we grabbed one of the two remaining tables and not a moment too soon, as several more parties were just walking in.
The bar at Lupa, with its knowledgable staff and assortment of terrific Italian wines is hard to beat on a snowy night. Looking out at Thompson Street, snow covering the parked cars and passersby and the smells of fresh pastas, sauces and spicy entrees like Pollo alla Diavola lingering...was very pleasant.
So on to the food...
What we shared:
Smoked Eggplant "Sformato"
Beets & Pistachio
Proscuitto Di Parma Gran Riserva (24 months)
Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage & Fennel
Pollo alla Diavola
Pork chop Special ??
I had my heart set on the "Giovedi" dish which on the website listed as being "Gnocchi Alla Romana". Alas, the bartender told me that they just changed the menu today. Ugh. But that was okay...there were other things to try...
Having tried the Sformato di Parmigiano at Otto and absolutely loving it, I assumed this would be as good if not better. It wasn't. In fact, it was so bland, I asked them to take it away. The eggplant puree was bland, but the custard-like "sformato" was inedible. Remarkably tasteless. Big disappointment. So instead, we tried the Beets & Pistachio. Now this was much better. The pistachio puree that accompanied it was a bit chalky, but overall the dish worked quite nicely.
The Proscuitto was good but not excellent. It seemed that the proscuitto was better at Otto, but could that be? I am fairly certain it is the same imported variety. In any event it was very good...but still not exceptional. A deli called Italian Riviera in Waldwick, NJ still has, in my opinion, not only the greatest prosciutto I've ever had, but the best cold cuts in general.
Next up was the Ricotta Gnocchi with Sausage & Fennel. This was wonderful. Nice and fluffy but still not the best I've had. (See chef Matt Pivnick's at Rocca in Glen Rock, NJ for the best ricotta gnocchi). It came with a conservative helping of sausage. Still, this was good, slightly filling and really made us hungry for our entrees.
The Pork Chop was pretty big, cooked well and very nicely seasoned. I am not the biggest fan of pork (excluding bacon) and I found it to be pretty good. The texture of pork just doesn't work for me. This was no different but the wife enjoyed it. She was, however, hoping there would be some accompanying sauce or something. It was quite dry. The pollo alla diavola was wondeful to look at, to smell and fortunately to eat. This was the best dish of the night and really turned the dining experience around. The chicken was perfectly cooked with crispy, colorful skin, a very peppery bite to it and it smelled wonderful. A great dish, and one that I will think of tonight as it snows again. I would go back just for this dish.
Service was okay at best. The hostess, maitre d' and the (possibly too) casually dressed sommelier were all pleasant and helpful enough - however the sommelier at Otto was far more professional. Our waitress was very friendly but really just average. Didn't go into detail about any dishes, didn't really give any extra. The bus staff were pretty clumsy.
But high praise needs to go to the bar staff. The one remarkably-familiar-looking girl (with a raspier voice in a nice way) really knew how to choose a wine for me. Two in fact. I think the first was Garganega “Camporengo” Le Fraghe 2002 and I can't recall the second (I have the names at home). The second being excellent. And to the gentleman of the bar who, with a remarkably straight face, responded to the Mid-westerner (assumption) visiting New York on business who asked for a Merlot with a simple "we don't have any at the moment".
Overall, you can't beat the price. The food mentioned above plus four glasses of wine came to $127 before tip. Not bad at all. The value plus the chicken dish will bring me back.