Thursday, May 25, 2006

'inoteca - Part One of Adventures Into The Unknown

Every once in awhile, when I have a little cash to burn and some time to kill, I treat myself to a meal at a restaurant I’ve never been too. The place is rarely some new hotspot, but some place I have passed a thousand times or read hundred reviews about, but for some reason or another I just never had a meal there. I usually like to go by myself or with one other serious dining partner, who’s ready to indulge in never before tasted terrain. I also like to let my waiter do the ordering for me, thus allowing me to sample the best dishes (usually specials not on the menu) and to rid myself of that loathsome feeling of “ordering remorse”. All in all, each new restaurant usually turns out to be an incredible experience full of new food, new flavors and new (culinary) favorites.

Upon returning from my business trip last week, I found myself with a few extra dollars left over from my per diem. Instead of saving it or paying off one of my bills, I decided the responsible thing to do was to try out Inoteca, a Lower East Side Wine Bar, that I’ve had my eye on for over a year now. Let me be upfront about this: I know almost nothing about wine. I know that my lack of wine knowledge is due to my own ignorance, but I refuse to make any excuses other than I love beer and find the current trend of beer pairing much more exciting than wine pairing. So why, you may ask, did I pick a wine bar to try out? The answer is quite simple. You see, every time I walk past Inoteca, not only does it look like everyone there is having a fabulous time, but the food they’re enjoying looks fantastic. So with that in mind, and a few dollars to blow, I headed down to the corner of Ludlow and Rivington for a meal of vino e cucina.

I left work later than I had wanted to and didn’t get to Inoteca until a little past seven. By then it was packed with locals and the wait time was growing and growing. I opted to sit outside and was seated immediately, since it was slightly chilly and I was the only patron willing to endure the cool evening breeze. My waitress was an older woman, with dyed pink hair, which I read as I a sign that she had been serving there for quite a while and that her recommendations would be spot on. And boy was I right. (NB: I recommend personal discretion when letting your waiter order for you. Do no let anyone who looks like a novice and /or disgruntled about his or her job. You will wind up receiving terrible attitude and boring food.)

My waitress started me off with a nice glass of red wine. I missed the name of the wine, but it was a very potent glass, with a strong acidity, large berry taste and strong bite. The first course was homemade goat’s milk ricotta, served with seared tomatoes and flatbread, on top of a fresh bed of baby arugula ($8). The ricotta, which was slightly toasted on the bottom, was served warm and mixed with parsley and thyme. The sweetness of the both the ricotta and the tomatoes (which had hints of pumpkin), contrasted nicely with the tart, lemon and peppery salad. Mixed all together on top of a large bite of crispy flatbread and one was reminded of imminent spring time, with an allusion to the oncoming summer.

Next up were culatello with noci and mozzarella pane ($8) and the polpette ($8). I was expecting either one or the other, with a sweet dish ending the meal, but that was not to be. I enjoy my meat, but this was a lot to take at once for a “small plate” type dinner. I started with the pane, which was served with a few complimentary olives. Culatello is a middle cut of prosciutto, which has is less cured than normal. The result was a sweeter and less salty meat, that mixed well with the rich noci, a walnut based pesto, and the creamy mozzarella. All of the elements came together quite nicely on the lightly buttered, toasted bread. The polpette were meatballs, made from of the perfect combination of equal parts veal, beef and lamb. Served in a tomatoes based sauce, they were topped with cooked onions, tomato concasse and orange zest, and were surprisingly light and trim in fat.

Seeing how I wanted to keep the meal light, I declined on a full dessert and choose a nice Americano de Esse Café. The sun had fully set by the time it arrived, and it’s literal warmth and full flavor allowed me a few extra minutes outside. I hope to return sooner than it took for my initial visit, because overall the service was perfect, the food was fantastic and the scene a must for anyone into being seen.

'inoteca is located at 88 Rivington St in New York City.

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