Hearth or Lupa?
Always wanted to try Hearth when I lived in the city, but a friend recommended Lupa. I only have 2 dinners to eat, one at the Spotted Pig, the other at....any suggestions? No to outrageus prices, but yes to outrageous food. Preferably downtown.
The last time I was at Hearth I felt it had gone downhill. We ordered the same type of things (2 apps, 2 entrees, 2 desserts, 1 glass wine and 1 beer) and the bill was $20+ more than when we went in Dec 2004. The portions were smaller and generally less creative as those we were so wowed by in our first visit. I'd pick Lupa.
I think it depends on exactly what you want. While I have not been to Lupa, one has only to look at the menu to erase any doubt that this restaurant is serving *Italian* food. To say it's very popular is an understatement of gigantic proportions. It is, after all, a Batali restaurant. Some even prefer it to Babbo. If you do a search, I'm sure you'll come up with a boatload of posts about Lupa, and I'm guessing you'll have a hard time finding any negative comments.
I have been to Hearth, and I, personally, wouldn't classify it as an Italian restaurant. In my view, the cuisine is New American though it does have a tilt toward Italian in some dishes. The food we had was delicious but not mind-blowing. Service is some of the best anywhere. The space is huge with the kind of decor I like to describe as early warehouse, i.e., very minimalist. The thing that saves it is the lighting, which helps give it a warm feeling. The front dining room is where big groups are seated, so the noise level gets rather high. I've been told the back room has mostly two-tops and is quieter. There's a bar where you can dine. And then, there's "The Pass," which has 4 seats and allows those who sit there to interact with Chef Marco Canora and his kitchen staff as they prepare the food. Those seats are first come, first served. They do take reservations for the dining room.
Wherever you end up, I hope you have an enjoyable meal and Bon Appetit!
Lupa has gone drastically down hill over the past year and a half. As much as I hate to say it, they are "phoning it in" these days. They rest on their inveterate reputation and the laurels of their aggressively seasoned 'Piatto Del Giorno'. I was there last Sunday and we had 2 out of the three special pastas at 25 bucks a pop (which is obscene by any standard unless truffles are involved). They were completely inedible.... the pasta chef even admitted the vat of water had much too much salt. Lupa is and will always be a scene. They have a great winelist and the staff is charming, but the food is simply not that good anymore. Joe and Mario should work a bit harder on the food coming out of the kitchen and less on the merchandising of olive oils, cookware, and Bastianich wine and who knows what next - linens, corkscrews, and compilation cd's?
I've only been to Hearth once, but based on that admittedly limited experience I would pick Lupa over Hearth in a heartbeat. I've had great food at Lupa on multiple locations in the last year, so I've had a pretty different experience than "breadandbutter" did. While Lupa has certainly benefited heavily from being part of the Batali empire, I think it's one of the Batali joints that actually deserves the hype.
As a last note on Italian fare, try Da Umberto on West 17th, this is the real deal. I have never had a bad meal there - just an opinion though. In regards to my Lupa comments, I wonder if "Kangar" had a different exprerience becuase he/she ate at one of the different "multiple locations" than I did. I was unaware that it was a chain restaurant. I know Mario is good at expanding the empire but man, that's impressive.....Look out KFC. Are there other Babbo's as well? I would be thrilled becuase that is one fine restaurant.