Trip Report (Lupa, Arturo's, LES Tour)
Visited for a couple of nights last week. Just to arm myself with chow-worthy finds, I jotted down a few oft-noted places on these boards.
We started off with a foray into Brooklyn for a few hours to check out the beautiful brownstones in Brooklyn Heights and a peek at the Promenade. Checking out the long line at Grimaldis, I surmised that Di Fara's would be just the same so we didn't bother to venture further.
Back in Manhattan, we went to Arturo's Pizza on Houston for dinner. Taxiing from midtown, we noted another long line at John's on Bleeker. Hmm, I'm sensing a pattern here. Upon arrival at Arturo's, though, we were relieved there was no wait and got a spot next to the pianist (and next to the kitchen). Being a jazz piano fan, I couldn't have asked for a better spot and I really enjoyed the duo - good chops and vocals. So, naturally, we ordered the coal oven pizza and decided on the Arturo's fiesta. the pie was burnt at the edges, which I guess was to be expected, but the center was too soggy. Now, I'm no pizza cognoscenti, and pizza was at the top of my to-do list on this trip, but my impressions about coal oven pizza from reading this forum were a bit shattered. Overall flavor was alright, but this pie was not my cup of tea. Service was friendly. I'm sure there are plenty of other pizzerias in the city that would better suit me, but this was a short stay and I had to pick my battles wisely.
The next day, we took part of RGR's LES tour, starting with Yonah Schimmel's for a warmed potato knish. Perhaps it's more important for its cultural or historical significance, but the knish itself seemed unimpressive. Maybe I'll never fully understand it unless I've lived here awhile. Things got better with Russ and Daughters a few doors down, with a unique atmosphere that reminds me of a See's Candies shop. Very courteous countermen, and an excellent bagel w/cream cheese. Next up, a pastrami on rye at Katz's. Pricey for what you get, but it's the best pastrami I've ever had. Definitely better than the Stage Deli's version I tried three years ago. Complimentary pickles were also delicious as was the matzo ball soup and Dr. Brown's cream soda. I hope to make a trip one day to Langer's here in L.A. for a comparison. Being a coffeegeek, we then swung by Gimme Coffee on Mott for a capp. Very good, almost as good as an Intelly or Blue Bottle but not quite there.
For dinner, we went to Lupa's as walk-ins. Expectations ran high with all the mentions here. It sure seemed encouraging - crowded and bustling, and we were fortunate to snag a table. Ordered three pastas - Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Bucatini All' Amatriciana and some linguini with baby squid and ramp IIRC. How was it? Well, I could overlook the very al dente noodles and the smallish portions in that oversized bowl ($19 for that linguini?), but...the flavors just did not seem to come together. Everything seemed a bit bland, and I was looking for something that stood out but I just couldn't find it. The flavor I've had in some of the Italian places in SF. Should we have stuck with the antipasti or proteins? I must say that service was excellent. Perhaps I should have given my honest opinion when the hostess asked us how our meal was. We capped off the night with a superb cannoli from Rocco's on Bleeker.
Best: the live jazz at Arturo's. Katz's. Gimme Coffee (and Dunkin Donuts :-)).
Not so good: well, you know.
I agree with you on Lupa. Overrated, overpriced, and under-portioned. I don't mind at all paying a steep price, but you need to give me more pasta than that for $20. We had the carbonara and the amatriciana. The carbonara was weak. The amatriciana was above-average. Both were under-portioned.
If you ever take another swing through the LES, check out The Roasting Plant for coffee. I think it's excellent (although I'm not so fussy about coffee).
Yonah Schimmel's is hit or miss - and mostly miss. Every so often I get an awesome potato knish there that keeps me coming back, and makes me forget that 75% of the time the knishes are kinda dry and gross.
Thanks for evenhanded and honest report!
I agree with you re: Yonah Schimmel's (the one time i went, a few years ago, my knish tasted like sand) and re: Russ&Daughters (one of my favorite places in the world)....
Likewise, as many here have read, i'm an extreme detractor on all Batali restaurants, so your ho-hum meal doesn't surprise me...and while i do like the brussels sprouts there, there is no reason to offer to give Lupa a get-out-of-jail-free-card on the medicore pasta...the only thing that surprises me in your review of the place is the service: i've had decent servers there, but i've generally found their hostesses to be among the most snide in NY...
Come back and try more places...
Yep, ristretto. I tend to feel shysted when I pay big money for pasta, and they deliver a small portion. It starts them out with one foot in the grave for me. It better be an unreal pasta if it costs $20, and it's a small portion AND the service is spotty and disinterested. It didn't measure up to the hype for me.