Friday, August 04, 2006

Mario's Magic in Greenwich Village

Simple and Extrodinary, Lupa Continues To Dazzle

Today my wife and I will celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary, and will undoubtedly wind up in a Mario Batali space… although I must admit, I haven’t decided which one. Being that we’ll be eating very, very early, reservations aren’t a grave concern… selecting a spot may be a tougher task. That said, it’s time we discussed what is likely my favorite Batali haunt.

For years, I sat on my couch and watched Mario Batali cook up his Italian wonders on the Food network, while wearing his “Lupa” chef coat.

Hmmm. Lupa. “Must be good,” I thought.

I had no idea.

Years later, there I was, sitting in the smallish, crowded, noisy dining room having one of those “oh my god” meals. You know the one…. each course better than the last… without getting too full to continue.

Lupa is a space and menu with direction and attitude. She knows who she is and what she is… and how she got there. She is confident but not cocky, while remaining playful and pristine. She is built upon a world of flavor… presenting dishes that know how to deliver that ever important massage.

That message of… “we get it.”

My first experience at Lupa was on a brisk October evening in Greenwich Village. I had no reservation, but would not be denied. As the doors opened at 5pm, I dashed in and promptly sat at the bar, happy as a clam. I wouldn’t think of wasting table space being this happy to have a seat at the bar.

Those who read this blog understand I almost never hesitate eating at the bar. And of course at Lupa’s bar, you get 5-star service and can eat from the same menu as those who called a month ago for a reservation. Joy.

So with a suggestion and a taste or two of the day’s wine selections, I began to sip and nibble my way through a grouping of dishes that were just irresistible. Warm olives, beets with pistachio, white beans. I had an assortment of thin sliced homemade Salumi and Coppa, and a parsley and pancetta salad that may be the most spectacular thing I have ever put in my mouth. Really.

For my primi, I selected the Bavette Cacio & Pepe… or pasta with cheese and pepper. It was stupendous in its simplicity, and I finished every bite. For those who love al dente pasta, Lupa is your mecca… if anything some complain about the pasta being under-cooked. It did take me by surprise, but I found the pasta to be firm to the bite and just perfect.

Not having any room for a second course, I ordered anyway.

The menu features a wonderful array of choices… lamb, duck, fish, pork…. you name it. I settled on a Pork Saltimbocca that I just couldn’t resist. Pork, prosciutto, sage. Good lord.

Glancing at my watch, I realize I have been going at this for a good 2 hours. Maybe that’s why I haven’t burst yet… I was taking my time. And you know what that means.


Delicate may be the word here… gelatos, panna cotta, mascarpone. Fragrant hard cheeses served with condiments including honey. Help me.

Well, by now you are likely getting the picture that Lupa pushes all of my buttons. Since that chilly fall night, I have returned several times, never to be disappointed. Although they have replaced my favorite salad with other dishes (but the do promise it to return) I find each selection special unto itself.

Lupa is simply one of those “chef owned” joints that just plain lives up to the hype. Without question, it is one of the top 5 Italian restaurants in this city, meaning… one of the finest in the country. Yes, Babbo is tremendous, Del Posto uber-pricy and Otto loud but delicious. But Lupa, in her own way, remains on top of the Batali empire as just plain spectacular.