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May 11, 2009 08:07 AM

First (and probably last) meal at 'Inoteca (Gramercy)

Had an early dinner for four at 'inoteca in Gramercy/Murray Hill on Mothers' Day. This was the first time I have not seen it packed wall-to-wall with a crowd around the bar. Having read so much about the branch in the LES when it first opened, I was really eager to try this place.

I had a Bismark Fizz to start - it's Plymouth Sloe Gin, lemon juice, sugar egg white, seltzer water ($10). Drink was waaay too sweet - a kid could chug this without noticing any taste of alcohol in it. I love fizzes/drinks with egg whites in them, so I was really eager to try a couple on the menu, but after this, no thanks.

Antipasti plate to start: had a few different varieties of olives, two breadsticks, two slices of some kind of cured meat (methinks it's bresaola, it looked like thin-cut salami), a small wedge of a hard cheese (pecorino, I think), some pickled onions, seasoned chickpeas and some grilled veggies. This was fine, nothing extraordinary or bad about it. For $14 though, i would have expected a little bit more. I really liked the super-sour pickled onions, but two paper-thin slices of meat on the whole plate? Really? It would have been nice to have some bread served before the meal as well, just because AND to cut some of the saltiness. Olives were interesting, there were quite a few varieties and they weren't as super-salty as olives normally are.

Truffled egg toast: pretty good, the bf really thought it was great and the highlight of the meal. Nice thick runny egg-covered toast on top of some cooked artichokes. Couldn't really taste truffle though.

Suppli: after eating some great suppli in Rome recently, we had to order these. Didn't disappoint - nice crunchy fried exterior, non-mushy rice inside with cheese oozing in the middle. Great with the herbs in the dish (parsley?).

we all ordered separate mains. I ordered the spaghettini with ramps and pomodoro, the bf got a sorpressata, goat cheese and tapanade panini, the bf's brother got the pasta with ragu bianco and the mom got baked chicken with chickpeas. I got a bite of everyone's. The baked chicken was basically like a Moroccan chicken dish, right down to the chickpeas and tomato sauce. Not bad at all, but nothing special. The panini was grilled nicely so that the bread was toasted on the very outside, but still bready. It was too salty for my taste but still good. I wished there was much more than jsut a tiny spoonful of the tomato-ey onions on the plate because it went well when i ate them together. The ragu bianco was subtle in flavor but rich, if that makes any sense.

on to my main: spaghettini with ramps and pomodoro - holy crap, I have never had a dish so salty. It was a salt lick in a dish. I can't believe anyone would enjoy anything this salty unless you've already had your taste buds blown out. I admit I'm a liiiiittle bit sensitive to saltiness, but DAMN. The pasta itself was cooked well (though of course it got a bit more soft as time passed), and the 'sauce' texture was nice - felt in my mouth like a somewhat-stickiness to the sauce, which I thought must be some of the pasta-water, but I found a pool of oil at the bottom of the bowl, so that must be it. I guess this is the first time I've had ramps in a dish (jeez, what is the big deal with them?) and they tasted like oniony greens to me. The spaghettini with ramps is $15, with tomato, it's $17. Well, it must have been $1 each for the two bits of cooked tomato in the dish. What a steal. But god, I had to force myself to eat the whole thing. It was not a big portion at all, but the salt was off the charts. The bf's bro even complained that the other dishes relied too heavily on salt at this place, and he hadn't even tried mine. My salt-loving bf even admitted that he could "really taste the salt" in the spaghettini. I considered sending it back because it was nearly inedible to me, but sucked it up and powered through it. I am always paranoid of cooks spitting in returned food and sending it back. Ugh.

edited to add: the mom had the chocolate budino for dessert, which of course we all mooched from. It was good and very dark chocolate-y. It was served in a small teacup-sized cup with whipped cream for $5, which I thought was a very reasonably priced dessert (I'd say most desserts at normal restaurants are around $8 - they may be a little bigger, little fancier but still). The waiter described it as a pudding, but it's kinda more like a thicker mousse that holds its shape on your spoon.

So after all the anticipation, I don't think I'd ever return. Has anyone else had a problem with the salting of the food? It was unbelievable. Also, as the bf's brother said, the attempted 'coolness' of the menu with all of its weird categories and everything in Italian is kinda negated by the provided glossary of Italian terms. And the waiters of course are trained to "explain the menu" to everyone, at which they roll their eyes, probably also thinking what a stupid exercise this is. The place isn't bad, but I fail to see why it's packed to the gills every night. Apart from the truffled egg toast and maybe the suppli, I see no reason to return.

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  1. went for lunch and it was just o.k. Would not bother going back.

    1. I'm sorry to hear that the two of you were disappointed with 'inoteca.

      We had an excellent lunch there two weeks ago. Big portion of tasty beet salad, a superb Waygu beef bollito, and a delicious affogato to end the meal. I am salt-sensitive but did not find either the salad or the beef to be over-salted.


      What did you have that you felt was just o.k.?

      3 Replies
      1. re: RGR

        They just opened, you really should not be so negative. I hope you guys stated how you felt and hopefully they will fix what was wrong with it and it will be a place that you will go to and enjoy!

        1. re: rootcav

          They opened three months ago AND they already had the concept down with the first branch of inoteca. I don't think I was being unduly negative to a 'fledgling' restaurant cos hey, it's just not that new. The Times had a brief on them a week or two ago, I actually went in there hoping they fixed some of the issues that article mentioned, but I guess not.

        2. re: RGR

          I also had the beet salad. I love beets but found they were overwhelming as there was little else with them. My other complaint was that both the beets and the bruscietta with the different toppings were all so cold that the flavours were all a bit bland.
          I do have to say the ambience, service, and wine were great!

        3. I think you went on an off day. I've been to this location a couple of times and have loved everything, especially the cured meats, meatballs, lamb sausage, chickpea fritters, and eggplant lasagna. Never had a problem with salt levels, in fact, the chickpea fritters could use a little more salt. I also think the glossary included with the menu is a fantastic addition, it really opens up the menu to those who don't speak italian without having to ask the server a million questions. I could care less what type of "coolnes" that negates.

          4 Replies
          1. re: GTopp

            I agree that the food was in no way overalted. I also liked the glossary, which they also had at Lupa.

            1. re: GTopp

              "it really opens up the menu to those who don't speak italian without having to ask the server a million questions."

              then why do a menu like that in the first place? That was my point (or rather, the bf's brother's). Personally, I'm fine with Italian menus, but it just makes things unnecessarily difficult for others, and literally, my waiter rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh before asking "shall I explain the menu?" and running through it like a rehearsed speech or the disclaimers after commercials. I'm not saying the menu should have nothing but English, obviously, but even the Times brief brought up how extra-indecipherable the menu is. Don't get me wrong, I personally had no trouble with the menu, but I definitely could see how it would confuse others. It just feels pretentious and an unnecessary hurdle for diner and waiter alike. Unlike you maybe, I "could not" care less about menu pretensions, but when he brought the point up, I thought it was valid and worthy of mention.

              I like how people are acting like the correct answer is that the restaurant is good and I just went on a crazy off day. No one has mentioned that spaghettini dish - maybe we ordered the saltiest dishes they had.

              1. re: janethepain

                When it comes to restaurant reviews, there is no such thing as "the correct answer." They are *opinions* based on each diner's own experience(s).

                It's possible that when you had the spaghettini, the kitchen accidentally over-salted it, and if you had it on another day, it would be fine. On the other hand, maybe it's too salty all the time. I did not have the spaghettini dish, so there's no way I can give my assessment. I could only speak about the dishes we had, and none of them was overly-salty.

                With regard to the menu's text, I don't recall there being any glossary, so maybe it has just been added (or we missed it). Our server, who was extremely pleasant, asked if we needed any explanations. No evidence of any eye-rolling. We queried her about a few of the terms (as well as about portion sizes).

                Overall, as I said in my previous post, we were very happy with our experience and look forward to returning.

                1. re: janethepain

                  I'm not sure what you are looking for... Are you looking for someone to agree with you? Its quite possible the kitchen screwed up your dish but not anyone elses. It does happen from time to time at restaurants.

                  I've been there maybe 6 or 8 times (i live around the corner) and I've had the spaghettini dish with ramps and pomodoro twice and never experienced oversalting, in fact, I'm a big fan of the dish, and ramps in particular. I also can't recall ever getting anything oversalted.

                  I find the food good and reasonably priced and the service great. Some of the bruschette are a bit ordinary but not all of them. I've never had any of the egg white drinks, so I can't comment on those.

              2. What made you decide not to send back the dish that was so oversalted? It sucks that you had a bad meal. My feeling was that "Had dinner...on Mother's Day" was the reason - not an excuse at all, just that that is the WORST day of the restaurant calendar. I avoid eating out on Mother's Day like the plague. So it wouldn't surprise me if the kitchen simply fucked up under immense pressure that day. As I said, there's no excuse for that, and it really sucks.

                I've never been to that new branch of 'inoteca, but did go back to the Rivington/Ludlow branch a few days ago, and had another good experience. I've been to that branch several times and have always had good food and good recommendations from the waitstaff. Our waitress that time recommended an unusually good white wine that cost $17 for a carafe; I wish I could remember its name. We shared a salad of calamari, arugula, and chopped fennel and a bruschetta (well, two bruschette) with mascarpone, figs stewed in red wine, and I believe prosciutto cotto. The only unusual thing on that visit (the only one, or one of the few that I've made before midnight [it was around 11:00 when we got there]) was how loud the heavy metal music was when we arrived, and the fact that it was part of an odd play list that included soft pop, too.

                1. I found the menu difficult to read. It was in Italian (sometimes) and I really did not want to ignore my lunch guest and spend time with the glossary they provide. I speak a little Italian but this menu was so confusing I just ordered a salad. I wonder if they would consider one menu with Italian and English on the same page? The beet salad was a little disappointing. Big chunks of red beets covered with very mild oil. Olive oil or salad oil? I can't be sure. I will give them another chance since the staff was wonderful and so many people really like this place. New restaurants need some time to adjust. Maybe I just went on an off day.