Sunday, June 10, 2007
Our friend, Shawn, who has been making so many appearances on our blog lately, is an old friend from Chicago. He left us about 3 years ago, moving to New York to work in the Restaurant business. He is currently cooking at Lupa, one of Maria Batalli's restaurants. You know, Mario Batali, one of the food network's celebrity Chefs, the red haired Italian Chef, from Iron Chef America. Although Shawn slaves away 10-12 hour shifts in kitchen, he had never actually eaten there. When he invited us to come along with him, even though we are on a budget, we couldn't refuse.
The full name of the restaurant is Lupa Osteria Romana. I asked Shawn and our server, Elizabeta, what a Roman style Osteria is and they both described it as being a less formal establishment with a bar on one side and a few small tables. One can order a cafe or cappuccino at the bar and perhaps a few small food items as well before sitting down. So in essence, an Osteria is more like a cafe. Lupa, being more formal, resembles more a trattoria or tavern style restaurant, and is an Osteria in name only.
Lupa is located near Washington Park, home of the famous Washington Park Arch. The restaurant itself resides on a small and cozy side street. The atmosphere is warm and earthy. The walls are painted a burnt orange color with a beautiful Mahogany Bar lining the left wall and dark shelves containing their wine selection on the right. The atmosphere is very welcoming and unpretentious.
We decided to make lunch reservations for Friday at 2:30. We made a quick pit stop to pick up some beer before arriving. Shawn said it was customary for fellow coworkers to buy beer for the line cooks when coming to eat as a token of appreciation.
We arrived and Shawn quickly started introducing us to everyone there. The staff was incredibly friendly and very excited to see Shawn come in as a customer. We were seated immediately and the menus came flying out. Shawn and I had discussed how we wanted to go about ordering. I love sampling as much food as possible, but Shawn felt ordering a la carte was better then the sampling menu. We decided to do a la carte family style so we could sample the specific things we wanted. We all agreed the best person to choose the items would be Shawn, since not only is he is intimately involved with menu, which he cooks 5 days a week, but we also felt a little intimidated by the menu which was predominantly in Italian.
The food was served in three courses; the antipasto, the primi (pasta course), and the secondi (the entrée course). Shawn had been telling us how they do all their own butchering and curing of meats, including many different sausages and prosciutto.
For our antipasto course, we ordered the Grande under the carne section, so we could get a sampling of their in house cured meats. The Grande was served with four slices each of Prosciutto Di Parma, Coppa, which is cured pork shoulder, and Salumi, a small round salami. It also came with a bowl of sliced Lingua, which is beef tongue, and finally 2 slices of Testa, also known as headcheese. Beside this, we also ordered Tuna with Cannelini beans, Marinated Eggplant with Mint and Radicchio with Anchovies. In addition to all of this, the chef sent out an Escarole salad with walnuts, red onions and pecorino.
The prosciutto, salumi and coppa were all very traditional. They were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Lingua was very good. I have had tongue before and I remember it being very chewy. Lupa's Lingua was very tender with a surprisingly sweet flavor. The tuna had a good flavor but was a little tough and over cooked. My favorite was the marinated eggplant. It had excellent texture being still slightly crisp and the balance between the slightly acidic lemon flavored marinade with fresh taste of the mint with the subtlety of the eggplant was amazing.
I wanted to be open minded about the Testa aka, head cheese. Headcheese is made of the left over portions of meat from the pigs head cooked in Gelatin. I have always heard stories of my Austrian grandfather making headcheese every year when he made sausage. He loved it, but my mother said everyone else in the family hated it. I tried it both on its own and on bread. I just didn't like it. While the flavor of the meat itself was nice and pungent, I couldn't get over the gelatinous consistency or taste. It just felt as though I was eating mucousy fat with meat chunks. I wont be testing out the testa again.
Here I am trying the Testa the first time. You can see how well I'm enjoying it.
For the primi course we sampled three different kinds of pasta dishes.
I first tried the Bucatini All' Amatriciana, which is a long hollow noodle, like a mix of a macaroni and spaghetti noodle. It was served with tomato sauce and a fried meat (the name eludes me) cured similar to prosciutto but made with the cheek of the pig. Ira criticized it for being too heavy, but I thought it was delicious. The salty meat mixed with the sweet of the tomato sauce created an excellent balance. This balance I found to be missing in the next pasta dish, the name of which also eludes me. It was a traditional spaghetti noodle with the same meat as the first pasta dish, this time cooked in an egg cream sauce. The sauce was incredibly rich and savory. Together with the pork, it felt too salty, but was still very good. Lastly, I tried the Linguine and Mussels. This dish was very nice in its simplicity. The sauce was prepared with the liquor of the mussels with just a bit of butter and lemon to give it body. It was served over the linguine with the mussels and a few slices of jalapeno peppers. The peppers gave the flavor just the right zing to keep the taste from being too boring in its simplicity. I felt the sauce and noodles, paired with the muscles for a bit of sweet and the peppers for some zing worked quite harmoniously. Ira, who always prefers hot food, liked this dish the best.
The secondi course, or entrée, we had Saltimbocca and Trout. Saltimbocca, which is made of Veal, prosciutto & sage, literally is translated to “jumps into the mouth”. It was incredibly delicious and rich. The prosciutto giving just the right amount of seasoning and texture to the delicate veal. The trout, which was served whole, fried in a light breading with crushed capers, was a bit of a disappointment. The meat was not as tender, feeling slightly over cooked and definitly under seasoned. The subtle flavor of the fish was nice, but the dish didn't jump into the mouth as the previous dish.
The entrées were accompanied by side dishes of charred asparagus, which were nicely crunchy and fresh, potatoes served in a fried pancake style and sea beans. I had never heard of sea beans before. Sea beans also known as samphire is a type of seaweed. It is naturally very crisp and salty from the seawater, so it was simply served with butter and was really very good.
After all this food, as you can imagine, we all felt pretty destroyed. When Elizabeta came back and introduced us to the desert options we all felt as though we had better pass. However, when Elizabeta came back to the table, she was bearing not the expected bill, but four spoons, which she dispersed around the table with a parting smirk. Next two beautiful dishes appeared at our table. One plate held a white cream custard with a black berry sauce and garnished with fresh black berries. The other plate presented us with chocolate dipped gelato of cherries and truffles, served with a chocolate cherry ganache.
Both were delicious; the first was light and creamy, and the second dish was rich and sumptuous.
Along with these two dishes, we were also brought four large shot glasses holding a white liquid Shawn jokingly referred to as Slurpino. The glasses held a mixture of lemon gelato, Prosecco (an Italian white sparkling wine) and vodka. The sparkling wine gave the gelato a light and crisp taste and the vodka helped tame the sweetness. Marcus, bowed out of eating the deserts due to a lactose intolerance, so I just had to help him finish his drink as well as my own. Shawn particularly was busting the buttons from his shirt, both in pride of the food as well as from being bloated.
By the time the meal was over, 2 1/2 hours had elapsed. My stomach was feeling distended from all the food we ate, and I realized I was feeling pretty tipsy from our final desert, which turned out to be far more alcoholic then it tasted. All in all, we had an amazing meal. I have a tendency of feeling slightly awkward and self-conscious when in a fine dining experience, but having Shawn there to explain everything, made it so easy. Shawn's coworkers were all incredibly friendly and helpful which lent to very comfortable and unpretentious meal. We even got a quick tour of the kitchen afterwards, which was very exciting to me.
Although the bill was the equivalent to the budget of multiple days, it was totally worth it.
Posted by Andrea at 9:55 AM