Saturday, December 15, 2007

Da Umberto: Magic In Chelsea

After Your First Bite, You Again Realize That NYC Is The Greatest Restaurant City In The World

Before I actually lived in New York, I questioned if in fact New York was the best restaurant city in the world. I had traveled to London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome, Berlin and others.... and had lived in Chicago and Los Angeles... not to mention growing up 60 miles from New Orleans. But after moving to NYC several years ago, it didn't take long for the realization to set in... NYC is simply the best restaurant city in the world.

A constant reminder of this realization occured only days ago, as I visited a remarkable Italian restaurant... that in many cities would be considered "the best" in town. Of course in New York, it is "one of the best".

The spot?... Da Umberto, the classic destination in Chelsea. And surprise, surprise. This joint isn't owned and operated by Super Mario.

Simply put, Da Umberto is the type of restaurant that makes NYC great. It is unassuming, unpretentious, truly authentic and incredibly delicious. Here's the skinny.

Those NY'ers that are keen to tricks and gadgets will smile at the door of Da Umberto's. Why? At the door you aren't greeted by a hostess stand or stuffy waiter.. but a coat rack. That's right, your are in the foyer of someone's home, and that's how you are made to feel. Come on in.

After a glass of prosecco at the bar (thank you Rocco), we made our way into the middle of the deep, narrow dining room to find a spacious spot. The three of us settled in and began to try and figure out where in the hell those amazing smells were coming from.

With one of our party having a good deal of Da Umberto experience, he put the evening in the hands of our terrific waiter. The waiter suggested a menu of many tastes... a plate of mixed grilled and marinated vegetables (Da Umberto antipasto) with a sauteed jumbo shrimp in garlic cream and a smoky, grilled baby squid that was out of this world.

Next, a plate of sliced proscuitto (perfect), sopressata (one of my favorites), mortadella (simple) and chunks of aged parmigiano reggiano (very high quality, with some salty crystals lurking within).

Not to miss a sampling of pasta, we all received a small plate of remarkable bites... the first, a handmade mushroom ravioli topped with black truffle cream... along side a spaghetti with fresh tomatoes rendered in pancetta fat. Outstanding.

As good as the first three course were, the meats and fish to come were worth waiting for.

The veal milanese, pounded thin, breaded and pan fried was topped with a saute of cherry tomatoes and arugula. The sweet tomatoes and peppery arugula were terrific... but after one bite of the tender veal I realized the cutlet had been fried in pure butter. Wow.

Not to be outdone, my colleagues enjoyed a venison osso bucco... rich and tender over a bed of perfect risotto... and a whole roasted monk fish, grilled to perfection on the bone. Topped with lemon and thyme, the dish was truly authentic and tasted as good as it smelled.

Desert looked amazing... a cart of treats including a 10 pound bowl of tiramisu... a gigantic offering unlike anything I had ever seen. Next visit, I'll remember this and try and save room.

So by now you are likely getting the drift that I like... no love, Da Umberto's. When you combine terrific staff, feel, food and ambiance, it's hard to miss. No, this isn't a cheap night (think $60-80 per person without wine)... but the dinner tab will cost you much less than a trip to Rome. Of course, a few bottles of wine and you could fly coach to Venice, but I'll leave that up to you.

Additionally, you should be dressed. One thing I noticed was there were no slackers waiting for a table, and the crowd was dressed to kill. Nice.

Lastly, call ahead. This isn't a place you can just "drop in" on and get a killer table. This is a special place, so treat it as such.

When the holiday season rolls around, I take time to thank my lucky stars for the things in this life that make me truly happy.

Thank you Da Umberto's.... and may you have the happiest of holidays in this season of giving.