My wife and I tried our new approach to holiday dining last night - eat early and eat only at those restaurants that offer their regular a la carte menu. In other words don't waste time and money on special menus that are usually underperforming and ill-paced.
Well LUPA came through with flying colors. We arrived intentionally early in order to sit at the bar and enjoy a few drinks before dinner. We arrived at around 5:00 PM and the place was packed.
At precisely 5:45 PM, our reservation time, we were seated in the rear dining room by the corner window.
For starters we ordered Brussels sprouts with shredded greens and loads of pecorino (made your mouth pucker in a good way!), a perfectly prepared baccala with potatoes & lovage (we could have eaten multiple helpings of this dish - it was terrific), and coppa cotta - this literally melted in your mouth. I think the house made meats at Lupa are among the best in town.
We then moved on to pastas and shared a perfectly al dente pasta dish with cauliflower and then the ricotta gnocchi with sausage and fennel. Both well prepared and wonderfully seasoned.
We finished by sharing a trout dish with pear and radicchio - once again, the dish was perfectly seasoned and buttery smooth - the cooked pear a perfect accompaniment.
We also had a reasonably priced Verdicchio during the meal.
But what was truly surreal was that it seemed we were in bubble surrounded by troubled waters ;-) Diners on both sides of us had the Feast of the Seven Fishes special menu and complained endlessly about small portions, no substitutions, slow and poor pacing of the courses and ill-paired wines. Truly a bizarre experience.
We ended up having a conversation with a lovely couple from Italy (she here in NYC for 10 years, he a resident of Florence). Their summation of Lupa was that it reminded them of a Spanish restaurant! And their other gem, told to us in utter secrecy, was that Romans disliked Americans.
Quite a Christmas Eve - wouldn't have missed it for anything ;-) Certainly the best holiday meal in Manhattan in ages!