- Bill Strzempek
After posting not the most glowing report on Babbo I thought I should be fair and post about Batali's other joint, Lupa, which I very much enjoyed a few days ago.
We went very late, just before 11, without a reservation, and were immediately seated in the back room. A great waitress of the "Rhea Pearlman" school was ours for the night -- lots of bling around her neck, curls, short, cocky, Italian, take her word on stuff she wasn't going to steer you wrong. And she didn't.
She talked us out of two appetizers when she saw what else we were ordering. We ended up with the sardines and cucumber, which had nice meaty big chunks of silvery fish and cukes with some oil and herbs, simple, tasted of the sea, refreshing for summer and got the appetite going. We then both had the same special of the day pasta, which was pappardelle with lamb ragu. It was a very full flavored ragu and the chef added some fresh chopped mint into it so every so often you'd catch a bit of the mint and it would go zing and make you keep eating more.
For mains they surpassed the terrific pasta course. I had the weird sounding pork shoulder with maraschinos. I actually asked about it to see if was going to be cloying or disgusting, the waitress said, "you won't believe how good it is" so I ordered it. We also ordered a special pork bresaola (sp?).
They came, huge portions, spoon tender, both of them! The bresaola fell apart when you looked at it, it was luscious and juicy and had all sorts of herbs infused into it. There was way to much to finish. It made a great sandwich the next day. But that cherry and pork shoulder was like nothing I've had before, what an inspired match, just a touch of sweetness to the entire thing, like when onions are carmelized, and a touch of smokiness was there too and a wisp of fruit all along with the earthy pork -- I guess by braising them for so long with the pork the maraschinos lose their intensity.
I'm writing this from where I don't have the note with the name of the wine the waitress suggested (again, steering us away from a very pricey bottle). She said, "you know, we had a wine at our staff tasting today that would be perfect with both those pork dishes, and I'm an idiot because I can't remember the name of it so don't order anything till I get back." She was back in a minute with the bottle, put it on the table and said "you want to try it?" She was right. It was a great match to the food.
For dessert we went for the panna cotta with balsamic vinegar -- I had to see if the same baloney that we went through at Babbo was going to be carried out [see post in thread below]. It wasn't. It was sweet, just enough to make us feel like we had a polish on the meal, the vinegar was on the dish when it was brought out, there was no ceremony, no $25 surcharge, and it tasted just as good as Babbo's. A nice glass of dessert wine (sorry, don't have the name again) was the final touch.
It was my third time at Lupa over several years but I was very much taken by the knowledgable yet relaxed service, the tremendous food, and the good value as far as pricing. I'm going back next week.