In NYC for a few days with enough cash for one big-splurge meal. Never any doubt where we wanted that meal to be. Only question was whether we'd be able to get a reservation--we hadn't made on in advance. Fortunately we called that afternoon and were able to secure a table for 4 at 8:15.
Before getting into the details, I'll blow the surprise ending and just flat-out say it: this was one of the best meals I've ever had, anywhere. I was worried that this place couldn't possibly live up to the hype, and also that some of the negative posts here about the service and attitude would prove to be true. In our case, anyway, neither fear was realized: the food was truly remarkable, the service exquisite.
A note about the service: We sat at 8:15 and didn't leave until 11. No one ever made us feel rushed, nor did we ever feel neglected. Our waitress was there whenever we needed her and was very helpful in navigating the overwhelming menu. The sommalier was gracious and efficient. Nor were we asked whether we wanted the check at the end of the meal; they waited until we asked for it. I've had meals served this way before, but not often in the US--it's the way food is served in Italy, in my experience, and it is the best way to enjoy a restaurant meal. It turns dining out into a fabulous social experience rather than a functional pie-hole stuffing experience.
First order of business was to pick a wine. We knew we were going to order lots of robust dishes--pretty much the only option anyway--so we wanted to order a big Tuscan red that could stand up to the food. The wine list is even more daunting than the menu--it is very deep. It shallows out considerably if, like us, you decide to limit your wine budget to $50 a botttle. We ordered the Gualdo de Re Suvereto Riserva from Va di Cornia for $40, and it did its job admirably. We ended up drinking two bottles of the stuff.
We each enjoyed a lovely glass of prosecco while performing triage on the menu. We finally decided on three antipasti, four pastas, and four secundi. They were:
Warm tripe--served in perhaps the best red sauce I have ever had. Topped with a huge piece of grilled bread slathered with olive oil. They paired perfectly. I could eat this every day and would never complain.
Lamb's Tongue--another revelation. Served with a vinaigrette and topped with a three-minute egg, the taste of lamb still rightly dominated the dish. Fabulous.
Steamed cockles--delicious, but not a revelation. I thought I detected just a trace too much wine in the sauce, but no one else at the table seemed to mind.
Bucatini with Guanciale--rich and delicious, the bucatini cooked perfectly al dente. A winner.
Goose Liver Ravioli--amazing, but I can't imagine anyone could ever eat an entire serving on his own. Way too rich--one serving was more than enough for the four of us.
Stinging Nettle Papparradelle with Boar Ragu--Tremendous! the handmade Papparadelle were delicate and translucent, like those rice noodles that shrimp come wrapped in at dim sum. The boar was diced and plentiful. Very easy to get a forkful of everything. The best of the pastas we ordered.
Special: Coin Shaped Pasta in Rustic Pesto--great, but when all is said and done, it was pesto. One of the few things we had that we agreed we could all reproduce at home without too much work or exotic shopping.
Duck--Incredible. Succulent slices of duck breast atop a perfect, crispy duck leg.
Grilled Quail--Also amazing. Two whole boned quail, plump and juicy, perfectly grilled.
Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads-Another winner, although a few of these went a long way. Great for splitting with a group.
Beef Cheek Ravioli--Getting monotonous, I know, but this was also tremendous. Beef cheek is like brisket, but richer. I've had it often in tacos, but never in ravioli. The ravioli are better. :-)
We finished with a round of grappas and two desserts: the chocolate hazelnut cake with hazelnut gelato and the torta di peca e polenta. The check came with little cookies, including these to-die-for amaretto cookies with a merangue-y consistency and shaved pignoli on top. The meal with tip came to $500 for 4 people. Expensive, but well worth it. A truly wonderful dining experience from get to go. Mmm, not exactly from get--the bar area where you wait for your table is small and cramped. That, however, was the only negative in an otherwise perfect evening.