Not sure what took me so long to try L’Artusi, but I’m glad I finally did. David and I went two weekends ago, and everything was excellent; not just the food, but also the wine and the service. It was the holy dining trifecta. Need proof? Take a look.
Many restaurants haphazardly throw together a salad (often with wilted and decaying greens, shame on you!) and sell it for a ridiculous amount of money, but not so at L’Artusi. The Butter Lettuce ($13), with lemon crema, gorgonzola, olives, and hazelnuts, was fresh as can be and beautifully constructed. The lemon crema was especially nice in that it balanced out the bite of the gorgonzola.
Dayboat Scallops ($15), thinly sliced and swimming in olive oil with a bit lemon juice and sprinkled with sea salt and espelette, were equally wonderful. Scallops can sometimes be bland, but these silky slivers were full of flavor. Each bite tasted of the sea, citrus, and golden olive oil. For a brief moment, I questioned the necessity of sashimi. Rest assured, the moment was brief. Sushi Yasuda holds rock steady in my heart.
After the scallops, we were pleasantly surprised with a plate of ricotta ravioli on the house from the chef. (We were sitting at the chef’s table and according to our waiter, the chef usually sends out an extra plate for those sitting there. He added, “Don’t tell anyone!,” but obviously I’m not one to tell secrets to when it comes to food.) Free food is good, but free delicious food is awesome. These fell into the awesome category. Perhaps it had to do with the portion size, but although filled with ricotta, covered in a creamy sauce, and topped with curls of Parmesan, the ravioli didn’t taste heavy it all. We would have gladly eaten another plate full.
For our “official” pasta course, David and I shared the pasta special of the day which was a Tajarin (tagliatelle-like egg noodles; $22) with porcini mushrooms and Parmesan. The noodles were springy, and the meaty mushrooms imparted a lovely earthiness. The special was pricier than the other pasta dishes, but I’d say it was worth it.
For David’s meat course, he ordered the Branzino ($20) with roasted lemon, honey, and olives. He was quite happy with the combination of the sweet roasted lemon slices and the fish, but I was more impressed with the crispness of the skin. Very well done.
I ordered the Crispy Sweetbreads ($16) with brown butter, hazelnuts, and parsnip purée, and at first look, I admit, I was worried. The fried morsels looked a wee too blond, but surprisingly, the sweetbreads had a good crunch, and the innards were tender. Presentation is important, but flavor trumps all.
As a side, we ordered the Delicata Squash ($8) with sage and honey, which had a great caramelized flavor, but also completely unnecessary considering everything we had eaten so far. But according to David, who was a fan of the squash (as was I), food is not often about necessity. Sometimes, he’s very wise. Sometimes…
At this point I was ready to pop, but after seeing the Hazelnut Chocolate Torta ($10) constantly being plated all night, I had to have a bite, and it was completely not what I expected. Not in a bad way, but very different. I’d expected the torta to be crunchy, but in fact it was soft and chewy, almost like soft cookie. It was interesting. Overall it was good, but I would have been happy with just the salted caramel gelato served on the side.
As for wine, I had two glasses of two different whites, and I was very impressed with the Blanc De Morgex Et De La Salle, Ermes Pavese 2009 ($15). I had asked the sommelier for a dry white, and it was exactly that with a bit of minerality. Simply perfect. I’ll be looking for this wine around town. If I find it, you’ll hear it here or on Twitter. As you know, I’m not very good at keeping a good thing to myself.
UPDATE (1/27/2012) – I found not the 2009, but the 2008 Ermes Pavese, Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle at Astor Wines tonight for $24.99. There were only three bottles left. I bought two. Hurry if you want the last one.