I recently had a satisfying lunch at Insieme.
You can read my entire review at the ulterior epicure: [http://ulteriorepicure.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/review-get-it-together/]the ulterior epicure.
You can see photos of my entire meal on my Flickr account: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulteriorepicure/sets/72157605451973686/]
Here are some excerpts:
"Although I had every intention of going easy (given my packed dining schedule), over-ordering was unavoidable, if not inevitable. Thankfully, I was with two hungry friends, one of whom, the size of a small hand puppet, dubbed herself a “haute cuisine trash can.” Together, they handily finish anything I left behind.
We shared three antipasti. I ordered an additional two vegetable-themed antipasti.
I did not find the Primi, which we prudently ordered half-portions of, to be as great as the Antipasti.
For one, that highly anticipated Beef Heart Risotto (”Contemporary”) was over-salted and undercooked. They hadn’t coaxed enough starch out of the rice (this being especially frustrating given that it was a traditional red wine-based risotto and not one that relies on dairy for added binding and creaminess), which probably contributed to some grittiness in the rice. Given how great, in theory, it could have been, this dish was deflating. Thankfully, the nuggets and slices of beef heart were appropriately cooked, and the emerald beads of peas were very lovely.
The Tuna “Carbonara” was probably my favorite of the three primi. But it wasn’t perfect. The menu indicated that there was sea urchin in this carbonara, a creative (contemporary) stand-in for egg yolk. But I didn’t detect any sea urchin. This lack of creaminess really detracted from its billing as a carbonara.
It did, however, get the smoky element down. My friend and I had a brief exchange about the fact that tuna bottarga (which I had noticed on the menu) is not smoked. Yet I detected smoke. I mentioned something about there possibly being bacon in the dish, although my friends seemed not convinced. This was resolved after our meal, when a review of the menu revealed that this pasta included tuna bacon.
Secondi were good, but like the rest of the meal, failed to present anything terribly inspiring.
The Gulf Shrimp (a special listed under “Traditional”) was probably my favorite of the three secondi, more for the flavor than the shrimp itself. Maybe it was the hit of vinegary tartness in the background (that helped cut some of the greasiness).
More probably, it was the giant heads that were left on the prawns; filled with “noggin” cream that I eagerly sucked out. This dish’s success certainly wasn’t due to the corona beans, which though perfectly-cooked, were making a third appearance on someting I ordered (they had also appeared on my Octopus Carpaccio and Antipasti di Verdure).
Insieme offers a fine eating experience. It’s good for what it is: traditional and creative Italian cuisine presented in a contemporary fashion and setting. For its neighborhood (Midtown West, which, apparently, is so reprehensible that I had to work extra hard to convince my friends to go near), Insieme is probably nothing short of a God-send.
It’s also reasonably priced. Considering that I (alone) ordered, effectively, 3 antipasti, 1 primi, 1 secondi, and 1 dessert, a $90+change tab (including tax and tip) seemed somewhat reasonable. And, it could have fed two.
Admittedly, I had built up slightly great expectations around Insieme based on how the menu read and, to a lesser extent, what trusted friends had said about it. Both Hearth and Terroir (and Canora) have an ardent core of groupies.
Were these expectations seriously defeated? No. All of the proteins were expertly-cooked and everything was gorgeously plated. I discovered the wonderfulness of tuna bacon, the novelty of Parmesan soup (what is that they say about no cheese with seafood in Italian cooking?), and the possibility of pasta as soufflé. Service, despite the minor hiccups, was quite helpful and efficient. And, although it’s not the most dazzling dining room, the semi-sunken space is rather pleasant; there’s lots of natural light and those low-back velour chairs are really quite comfy.
But, as discussed, an outlying uneveness - over and under-seasoning maimed a number of potentially killer dishes; under-cooked risotto is never cool; maybe I should have been more explicit in requesting a “lettuce salad;” and what if I had been allergic to peanut (butter gelato)? (Well, then, I probably would have said something.) - prevented Insieme from living up to the potential that I had allowed the restaurant to inhabit.
I was expecting an overall boldness and excitement that didn’t quite appear. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the most successful dishes for me were the ones with the most “body:” the Octopus Carpaccio, Rouget, Tuna Carbonara, and Gulf Shrimp. These highlights will lure me back to the restaurant before than anything else the restaurant has to offer."
Again, read my entire review at the ulterior epicure: [http://ulteriorepicure.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/review-get-it-together/]the ulterior epicure.
You can see photos of my entire meal on my Flickr account: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/ulterior... my Flickr account