Cinquecento....quite optimistic after a first week dinner
While I always apply a certain discount to opinions formed within the first week (or even couple of months, for that matter) of a restaurant's public opening, I was searching for some early thoughts on Cinquecento and didn't see any, so I thought I'd share my own.
Went for dinner last night as a party of three, and was quite pleased with the meal overall. They've done a nice job with the space since the Rocca days. I had heard they were going for a Keith McNally/Morandi vibe, and while it's not quite that warm, the space does have a nice feel (also a great bar area - now up on the second floor). For a restaurant in its first week, the service hit the right notes. Friendly but not overbearing, knowledgable, and appropriately paced.
For food, we started with the Carciofi alla Romana, the Bruschetta with Burrata, Speck and a Pignoli Current Marmolata, and the Kale salad. While all three were quite good, I think the Bruschetta was the standout. The char on the toast went well with the smokiness of the speck and the creaminess of the burrata, all cut but the sweet acidity of the marmolata. The Kale salad was nice, albeit simple, and the artichoke, while delicious, was more of the stuffed variety (with herbed breadcrumbs) than the true roman variety (fried/braised, with herbs). Still, loved the crispy outer leaves.
For mains, we had the Casarecci Amatriciana, the Veal Saltimbocca and the Sunday Special - Braciolone over Rigatoni. All three were delicious, but the pastas were the standouts. The amatriciana was made with Guanciale (as it should be) and had a nice spicy cheesiness to it. The Braciolone was stuffed with raisins and pine nuts, and braised in tomatoes and barolo (or so they say...I'm not sure I believe they're using expensive wine for this, which I certanly wouldn't fault them for...it was delicious with whatever they used) until fork tender and served over just the right amount of al dente pasta (an italian american preparation, to be sure, but very "authentically" - for what that word is worth - Italian in flavoring). The Saltimbocca was an interesting preparation (aiming a bit highbrow), using veal loin wrapped in proscutto cooked and then slices in medallions, rather than a pounded cutlet. It was served topped with crispy sage over a bed of cabbage fonduta (which was more like braised cabbage with fontina cheese). While it was amazingly tender veal, the marsala sauce was a bit sweet, the cabbage could have used more cheese and the three small medallions, for a dish that was 1.7x the price of the Braciolone, just didn't quite match the other plates (they say it's the most popular dish on the menu so far by a wide margin).
For dessert, we shared the zeppole steeped in orange syrup with fresh ricotta, which tasted far lighter than what they are, and was a nice way to end the meal.
While there are a few new restaurant kinks that need to be worked out (new silverware wasn't set out before the mains came, wait staff still don't have a feel for the environment - breaking about 4 glasses dishes while we were there, and the wine pricing needs some tweaking - a 1.5 glass quartino is priced at the same level as two glasses??), I was pretty impressed with what I got on the third day of public opening. Overall a very enjoyable eating experience, with a lot of promise for additional improvement as they get their legs under them. I'll certainly be back.
Nice review, thanks! Anxious to try it myself.
As to the Barolo, there are $20-25 Barolos out there (see Trader Joe's); they're just nasty. But a NY Times article convinced me that plonky wine is fine for cooking, and using expensive wine for cooking is a waste: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/21/dining/21cook.html
Another explanation is they're using a modest Dolcetto or Barbera from a winemaker with Barolo in its name, like Marchesi di Barolo.
re: MC Slim JB
Fair point, and I completely agree about the quality of wine to be used for cooking - needs to be drinkable (though oxidized wine that you wouldn't want to drink is fine to cook with), but is a waste to use stuff that's exceptional because so much of the nuance is lost in the cooking.
I was just entertained that the server described it as braised in Barolo since, even at $20-25 a bottle, and without the need to use more than a bottle or two for a night's worth of covers, I'd think it'd kill the food cost on a $16 special.
In any event, and the most important part, it tasted pretty darn good!
re: MC Slim JB
If I recall, in the Bill Buford book Heat where he worked under Mario Batali for a while at Babbo, they had a very modest wine in a jug that they used instead of Barolo for all of their "Barolo-braised" dishes.
From a NYTimes review - "and the tidbit that the short ribs at Babbo, billed as "Brasato al Barolo," are braised not in Barolo but in cheap Merlot. "