i had been tickled by the thread about the desert trolley and because of it saturday night, towards the end of dinner at the da umberto, i knew i had to post about my meal at this low-key yet grand place. i actually was so full at that point i could barely look at the wonderful display on the desert trolley, not to mention worrying if i would still have an appetite the next day at the chowhound gathering in astoria. (not a problem as it turned out :)
umberto is famous for the quality of its tuscan anitpasto and all the offerings were attractive, tasted fresh and well-flavored, with numerous choices--including many vegetarian dishes--to sample. the barley salad was particulary good and had grains that were perfectly firm. this dish also had such a strong garlic flavour, you might think you were eating cloves of garlic alone. i was totally inspired by that preparation. the fish carpacios (salmon and some white fish) were interesting and i'd have to try them again to decide how much i liked them however. the one appetizer i didn't like was the portobello mushrooms that were doused in tons of balsamic vineger. (i'm not used to such heavy use of balsamic. i didn't like the otherwise amazing grilled radiccio at lupa for the same reason. maybe its an aquired taste...)
what i tried of the fish main courses and their accompanying vegetables were flavorful and fresh. extremely good. my ravioli of 2 mushrooms and black truffles in cream sauce was boring because the filling was kind of mushy and bland. the pasta with artichokes was much better.
seekers of the dessert trolley: it survives and thrives in chelsea. the four of us shared a tiramisu and a mixed fruit tart. the tart, which i didn't taste, looked wonderful and the person who ordered it said the custard under the fruit probably had cheese in it. i did have a bite of the tiramisu which was excellent and kind of rustic looking. it was a huge slice on its side. the sponge cake was completely dark--i imagine from the espresso/syrup soak. they serve it without additional cream on top. i loved the earthy presentation and the fact that the filling and cake were nicely balanced.
there were lots of large tables seating families or groups of friends. the staff is extremely gracious, helpful and knowledgeable without being pretentious or overbaring. they seem to genuinely care. i also liked the room's fairly understated modernish touches. despite the 'loft' look it still feels warm and has enough romantic softness to be a fine date restaurant. da umberto is slightly more elegant than lupa and the prices are more or less proportionately higher.
[disclaimer: this meal was on-the-house since my host was a close friend of the owner.]
all the best,