As a fan of Otto and Cacio e Pepe (Babbo is next to come), I have been waiting eagerly for my chance to visit Lupa. Last night, I braved the hypothermic cold to finally get that chance. Coming in with lofty expectations, I was not disappointed in the least.
Walking in, the room was bustling to the point of being too overcrowded for a Monday night. Waiters raced back and forth, squeezing between the narrow spaces and people in thick coats waiting to be seated packed in at the front of the restaurant. Perservering my way toward a seat at the bar, I started out with a Lupa Sidecar, a cocktail of acquavit, limoncello and... I'm blanking here... some other lemon ingredient with a sugar rim on the glass. Sweet and strong, it was a nice way to spend a ten minute wait.
I was also pretty happy because at the table behind me was none other than Anthony Bourdain. I know some people meet chefs all the time, but for me, as a recent reader of KC, it was a good sighting. It certainly spoke well of what I could expect.
Soon enough, the maitre'd informed my two friends and me that our table was ready (the service here was quite friendly, knowledgeable and professional throughout) and escorted us to the much more sedate back room, which frankly I was relieved by after the hustle and bustle of the front. (I can't even imagine the place on a Friday night.)
My friends and I started by splitting two verdures: the eggplant sformato, a custard with cheese that was very different from what I expected but creamy, salty and delicious, and the chanterelles with couscous and radicchio. I'm a very big mushroom fan and these were thankfully great. Also, there was an interesting interplay between the soft mushrooms, al dente oversized couscous and crunchy, firmer vegetation. Very different from the sformato, but they went well together. Next time, I'd like to try the beets with pistachio.
For wine, I chose a reasonably priced Tuscan white ($38), Vermentiino Costa Di Giulia Michele Satta 2001. It was mild and pleasant and seemed to pair well with what we were having. I found the wine list, which was divided by color and region and fairly extensive, easy to maneuver and very well priced.
For primi, two of us ordered the ricotta gnocchi with sausage and fennel and the other opted for the bucatini all'Amatriciana, after I shared that these both came highly recommended by some of the Chowhound members. I loved the gnocchi, incredibly light and tender, and both my friend and I cleaned our plates of the accompanying meat sauce because it was good. I still maintain that the best gnocchi I've had in New York was the stinging nettle variety at Cacio, but these came very close. The bucatini, a firm, thick spaghetti was quite the converse from my dish and it was strange to taste one after the other. I liked the spiciness of it (not many dishes on the menu went in that direction) but ultimately, I preferred my gnocchi.
For my entree, I had the market fish of the day which was striped bass. It came pan-seared with a preparation of lemon, parsley and garlic. It was fresh (despite my recalling the Bourdain suggestion that you shouldn't order fish on Mondays) and delicious and the added ingredients complemented the fish rather than overpowering it. One of my friends had the tuna belly which was nearly the size of a steak, and fried with bread crumbs. It too was good, soft and well-flavored, and he remarked that it was the least "fish-y" tasting fish he's ever had. My other friend had a chicken dish which she enjoyed but looked like a boring choice, as chicken can often be. It made sense for her because she doesn't like any meat or fish outside of poultry, but I would stick to the more interesting menu options (and this means almost anything else) that Lupa has to offer.
For dessert, I had the tartufo and a cappucino and they split a tartufo and an apricot panna cotta. I meant to try the panna cotta, but I was so stuffed and sated that I could barely accomodate the wonderful tartufo into my now bulging belly. The ice cream inside my chocolate ball was loaded with chunks of biscotti, an unexpected and very welcome treat. As full as I was, I ended up finishing my entire dessert because it was too good to leave.
The meal and the atmosphere were so pleasant that by the time it ended, I had entirely forgotten about the bitter cold outside. I paid my share of the check ($75 after tax and tip) and, putting on my coat, walked back through the now hushed front room. The weather hadn't gotten any more bearable, but I barely minded as I was too distracted, recalling all of the amazing tastes, flavors and ingredients I'd tasted that night.