Sprinting down the West Village’s cobble stone streets in the midst of the pouring rain, I couldn’t have been more excited to enter through L’Artusi’s warm and welcoming doors. The smiling hostesses and dark, yet inviting decor caused me to immediately shake off my cold chills and forget about my soaking wet sweater. Very few restaurants make such a positive first impression, leading me to believe the meal would be just as wonderful.
The hostess led Amber and I up the stairs to the smaller area of the restaurant. The simple, yet elegant table settings set the tone for the meal. The white wooden chairs, light wood tables, and simple place settings worked. On the far side of the seating area was a secluded room, with a long table in the middle and countless number of wine bottles inside a refrigerated case. You could look into the room through its white, open windows. I could only dream of the elegant birthday, engagement and other parties taking place behind those beautiful doors.
We sat down and begin to glance over the simple, yet complex menu. Sometimes the places with the fewest options, laid out so methodically (crudo, verdura, pasta, pesce, carne), give you the most trouble in selecting the perfect dishes. Ultimately, we decided to start with the easiest thing to order; wine.
Each region of Italy represents a unique page in the menu, citing the food pairings working well with the particular wine. We had very little clue as to what we wanted, seeing regions I didn’t even know existed. We asked the waiter for his suggestion of a medium bodied, not too fruity, red wine, in the lower price range. He suggested a Sicilian wine, one of his favorites, with a little bit of spice at the end.
I took a sip and could taste all the flavors described. The smooth flavor and subtle hint of spice at the end, since the grapes grew near a volcano. It was wonderful.
L’Artusi’s knowledgeable wait staff help to elevate the quality of the meal. They know their wines, the food, and details about every ingredient that goes into a dish. Our waiter made wonderful suggestions, without trying to up our bill or steer us towards just the “crowd favorites.”
Although the menu selection and service seems typical of a high end restaurant, the feel is much more causal, in a good way. Great, modern music plays in the background at the perfect level. People talk freely amongst friends, with laughter and conversations filling the room without interrupting your meal. It’s the ideal balance between fancy and fun. I would love for all restaurants to achieve this type of dining experience.
After much debate, and some suggestions, we decided to order the beef carpaccio to start.
At first glance, the presentation looked simple. However, the flavors were complex, building with each and every bite. The combination of ingredients reminded me of a deconstructed crostini, with the rye croutons giving a perfect crunch and earthy element to the beef. The horshradish crema added an essential kick of heat. I love horseradish heat, opposed to chili heat, since I find it to be much more subtle and earthier in flavor, rather then burning your tongue. Finally, a slight drizzle of fresh olive oil gave the necessary element of fresh, light flavor on top, enhancing the beef. The beef itself, sliced paper thin, soaked up all of the flavor from the other components, allowing for it to be the star. I could’ve eaten 10 of these.
Next, we decided to order two items from the verdura section of the menu. Heirloom Tomato Salad with Watermelon and Pancetta, and Roasted Mushrooms.
The kitchen at L’Artusi created one of the freshest, complex interesting interpretations of an heirloom tomato salad. The play on textures, temperatures, and heat levels compliment each other, elevating the dish and flavors. The tomatoes, so carefully sliced and lightly dressed in a chili oil, have a bright sweetness of flavor and slight kick of heat. Then the cooling, bigger pieces of watermelon provide the ideal light contrast. The large pieces of pancetta are crisp, cooked almost like bacon, rendering most of the fat. The saltiness from the bacon plays off all of the sweet flavors in the dish. I found myself reaching across the table for more bites of the bright, sweet tomato when it was Amber’s turn to enjoy the dish. This dish was wonderful and unique, and beautiful in presentation with all the summery colors as fall slowly begins to creep in.
After eating the tomato salad, I switched with Amber for the roasted mushrooms, which had to have been one of the most chronic dishes I have had in a long time.
A fried egg sits on a bed slow roasted mushrooms and crispy pieces of pancetta. A heavy dosage of cheese is grated on top, slightly melting into the egg. Cutting into the egg, the yolk runs over the mushrooms, creating a type of sauce with some of the hidden chilies mixed into the mushrooms. If this dish isn’t decadent, I don’t know what is. The mushrooms are salty and rich, with a slight hint of lemon coming through with each bite. The variation and sizes of mushrooms create a flavorful contrast of umami mixed with the different components. I found myself licking the plate clean, wishing I had ordered an extra of this dish to bring home and eat for breakfast in bed.
Next, came the pasta. We had debated this dish more then the rest, trying to decide whether or not order simple or complex. Eventually, the under the waiter suggestion, we decided on the Tajarin, a dish we could far from pronounce.
You can taste the difference between boxed pasta and fresh. Although they said all pasta was made in house, with one bite you know this was not just a selling point. Tajarin is a noodle similar to tagilatelle but thinner. The light pasta, slightly al dente, shined through all of the spectacular side components. However, I found myself drawn to the sweet, fresh corn. One of my favorite parts of fall is the arrival of corn in most dishes, and this pasta set the tone for the season. The speck gave a great salty component to contrast with the rich chanterelle mushrooms and creamy Parmesan cheese. The dish was delightful, but filling, allowing me to pack up a little container to go and enjoy at work.
We decided to end the meal with a piece of cheese. Amber and I both immediately vetoed the suggestion of chedder or a pungent cheese, in hopes of a lighter goat’s or sheep’s milk cheese. Ultimately we ordered the Bucheron cheese, which was a goat’s milk from France.
The cheese itself, although small in portion was divine, with a creamy, rich, nutty flavor. I have eaten the cheese off my knife for the entire end of the meal, but I decided the other components were there for a reason. However, when I picked up the light cracker, spread the decadent cheese on, my senses were immediately over whelmed with a strong salty flavor. Never before have I been served salted crackers with cheese. It was an unusual pairing. I asked the waiter about this, who said “we serve the same crackers with all our cheeses.” Although I am far from an expert, I eat cheese all the time at restaurants and I am on a first name basis with the cheese connoisseur at Fairway (hi Lenny!). I have an innate understanding from meals at places like Amada, that cheeses are unique and like wine, should be paired with great care and elegance.
“It’s weird because the attention to detail was so high on the other dishes,” Amber said. I couldn’t have agreed more. However, the salty crackers do not need to be dwelled upon and taint the meal. I still found the toasted coconut to be a pleasant accompaniment and the multigrain, not salted, crackers acted as a wonderful vehicle for the cheese.
Despite the salty ending, the meal was still fabulous and I would recommend this restaurant to anyone. It’s perfect for a nice birthday or just a fun girls night out. L’Artusi puts a unique spin on all of the dishes without losing its Italian flare. I left L’Artusi completely satisfied on now a warm, dry night completely forgetting about the rain from hours earlier.
L’Artusi – 228 W 10th Street – New York, NY
Location: West Village, NY
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Girls’ Night Out, Date Night
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Roasted Mushrooms, Beef Carpaccio, All Pasta Dishes