I have eaten at Lupa twice in the past two weeks, most recently on Tuesday night and both meals were exceptional. I had eaten there about a year ago and the service was terrible. I am glad to see that it has changed. I had the same waitress on my two recent visits. She was very helpful and non-obtrusive (her name is Liza). I suggest making reservations and specify that you wish to sit in the back room. The front of the restaurant is open for walk ins and it gets crowded around the bar. This tends to lead to people standing over your table.
On to the food. The best starter is the citrus cured sardines served over cracked wheat. Dense and meaty, they are some of the best sardines I have had in Manhattan. Another good way to start the meal is with an assortment of cured meats. These included very thinly sliced prosciutto, bresaola, mortadella and a dry sausage.
I have had two pastas at Lupa, both were excellent. The Bucatini all'Amatriciana is a wonderful tomato based sauce made with guanciale (cured pork jowl) and red onions. The onions add a nice sweetness to the dish. Then there are the ricotta gnocchi. They are so soft that if you press them against the roof of your mouth with your tounge, they will spread like a pat of warm butter. My one complaint is that they used to be served with a fantastic sauce made with crumbled fennel sausage. The menu has changed over the past week and the fennel sausage sauce has been replaced with a capon ragu. The ragu was good, but the fennel sausage was much better.
A very good entree is the braised oxtail. It is served off the bone and sits in a dark viscious sauce. A sprinkling of celery leaves over the top added a nice hint of freshness to an otherwise rich dish. The show stopper however, was a special on Tuesday night of lamb short ribs braised with vinegar and mustard seeds. I have never had a more unctious, tender meat in my life. If you closed your eyes, you would have thought that you were eating a lamb pudding. The deep lamb flavor matched nicely with the slight tang of the vinegar and mustard seeds. The young lady who I was with was stuffed to the gills by the time the lamb arrived, yet could not resist a bite (of the lamb). She sang its praises.
For dessert I had an assortment of uncommon Italian cheeses and macerated sour strawberries served with chunks of dark chocolate. I would also recomend the tartufo. It is the size of a softball and covered in milk chocoalate and rolled in chopped nuts.
The wine list has a great selection of southern Italian wines, many $30 and under. I had a very nice red which was light enough for a warm evening. It was called Rosso Mustilli Mustilli, 1997, from Campagna. I believe it was $27.
I highly reccomend going to Lupa. I am thinking of starting a letter writing campaign to get the lamb short ribs a permanent spot on the menu.