Had an early dinner for four at 'inoteca in Gramercy/Murray Hill on Mothers' Day. This was the first time I have not seen it packed wall-to-wall with a crowd around the bar. Having read so much about the branch in the LES when it first opened, I was really eager to try this place.
I had a Bismark Fizz to start - it's Plymouth Sloe Gin, lemon juice, sugar egg white, seltzer water ($10). Drink was waaay too sweet - a kid could chug this without noticing any taste of alcohol in it. I love fizzes/drinks with egg whites in them, so I was really eager to try a couple on the menu, but after this, no thanks.
Antipasti plate to start: had a few different varieties of olives, two breadsticks, two slices of some kind of cured meat (methinks it's bresaola, it looked like thin-cut salami), a small wedge of a hard cheese (pecorino, I think), some pickled onions, seasoned chickpeas and some grilled veggies. This was fine, nothing extraordinary or bad about it. For $14 though, i would have expected a little bit more. I really liked the super-sour pickled onions, but two paper-thin slices of meat on the whole plate? Really? It would have been nice to have some bread served before the meal as well, just because AND to cut some of the saltiness. Olives were interesting, there were quite a few varieties and they weren't as super-salty as olives normally are.
Truffled egg toast: pretty good, the bf really thought it was great and the highlight of the meal. Nice thick runny egg-covered toast on top of some cooked artichokes. Couldn't really taste truffle though.
Suppli: after eating some great suppli in Rome recently, we had to order these. Didn't disappoint - nice crunchy fried exterior, non-mushy rice inside with cheese oozing in the middle. Great with the herbs in the dish (parsley?).
we all ordered separate mains. I ordered the spaghettini with ramps and pomodoro, the bf got a sorpressata, goat cheese and tapanade panini, the bf's brother got the pasta with ragu bianco and the mom got baked chicken with chickpeas. I got a bite of everyone's. The baked chicken was basically like a Moroccan chicken dish, right down to the chickpeas and tomato sauce. Not bad at all, but nothing special. The panini was grilled nicely so that the bread was toasted on the very outside, but still bready. It was too salty for my taste but still good. I wished there was much more than jsut a tiny spoonful of the tomato-ey onions on the plate because it went well when i ate them together. The ragu bianco was subtle in flavor but rich, if that makes any sense.
on to my main: spaghettini with ramps and pomodoro - holy crap, I have never had a dish so salty. It was a salt lick in a dish. I can't believe anyone would enjoy anything this salty unless you've already had your taste buds blown out. I admit I'm a liiiiittle bit sensitive to saltiness, but DAMN. The pasta itself was cooked well (though of course it got a bit more soft as time passed), and the 'sauce' texture was nice - felt in my mouth like a somewhat-stickiness to the sauce, which I thought must be some of the pasta-water, but I found a pool of oil at the bottom of the bowl, so that must be it. I guess this is the first time I've had ramps in a dish (jeez, what is the big deal with them?) and they tasted like oniony greens to me. The spaghettini with ramps is $15, with tomato, it's $17. Well, it must have been $1 each for the two bits of cooked tomato in the dish. What a steal. But god, I had to force myself to eat the whole thing. It was not a big portion at all, but the salt was off the charts. The bf's bro even complained that the other dishes relied too heavily on salt at this place, and he hadn't even tried mine. My salt-loving bf even admitted that he could "really taste the salt" in the spaghettini. I considered sending it back because it was nearly inedible to me, but sucked it up and powered through it. I am always paranoid of cooks spitting in returned food and sending it back. Ugh.
edited to add: the mom had the chocolate budino for dessert, which of course we all mooched from. It was good and very dark chocolate-y. It was served in a small teacup-sized cup with whipped cream for $5, which I thought was a very reasonably priced dessert (I'd say most desserts at normal restaurants are around $8 - they may be a little bigger, little fancier but still). The waiter described it as a pudding, but it's kinda more like a thicker mousse that holds its shape on your spoon.
So after all the anticipation, I don't think I'd ever return. Has anyone else had a problem with the salting of the food? It was unbelievable. Also, as the bf's brother said, the attempted 'coolness' of the menu with all of its weird categories and everything in Italian is kinda negated by the provided glossary of Italian terms. And the waiters of course are trained to "explain the menu" to everyone, at which they roll their eyes, probably also thinking what a stupid exercise this is. The place isn't bad, but I fail to see why it's packed to the gills every night. Apart from the truffled egg toast and maybe the suppli, I see no reason to return.