98 Rivington St., Lower East Side

323 Third Ave., Gramercy Park (newly opened)

Italian for the manufacturing place of small eats, ‘inoteca is a popular Italian small plates chain that serves up powerful, rustic tastes and an extensive list of wines that satisfies both the oenophile and the budget-conscious bohemian. The menu is composed of simple, richly satisfying items, whose flavors depend on the selection of fresh artisinal ingredients, that require minimal preparation.

Panino with coppa, pepperoncino spread and fontina

Panino with coppa, pepperoncino spread and fontina

As such, the cuisine of the house is limited to an inspired array of tramezzini, bruschette, panini e affettatti (charcuterie). Honored aperitif-pairing foods such as bruschette, tramezzini feature premiere quality cured meats such as bresaola, coppa, culatello, heritage wagyu beef and the now virtually omnipresent porchetta. There is also a fair selection of vegetarian friendly items such as mozzarella and tapenade and egg salad and asparagus, and caponata di verdure and inventive salads that feature kumquat and pomegranate. The majority of the food items on the menu are under $20, with many of them under $15. Wine by the glass ranges from about $8-$16.

The panini that a friend and I most recently enjoyed fell somewhat short of the preparation standards that I’d experienced at inoteca’s Greenwich Village sister restaurant, ‘ino. My panino with coppa, pepperoncino spread and fontina was made with plain toasted white bread and was served lukewarm, instead of hot. This not only made the fontina semi-solid, but did not cause the flavors to peak and merge on the palate in the way they should have. While I appreciated the side of red cabbage and beans, this dish would have been a lot more enjoyable had it fared better in the basic areas such bread variety (a focaccia or a Tuscan bread would have been a superior choice) and temperature.

Panino with grilled mushrooms, mozzarella, pesto and spinach

Panino with grilled mushrooms, mozzarella, pesto and spinach

My friend’s panino with grilled mushrooms, mozzarella, pesto and spinach also suffered in the categories listed above. It may have simply been an off-night. Nevertheless, a place with a menu as limited as inoteca should make a better effort to keep on top of these missteps, especially since it has just (as of 2/18/09) brought this venture north of 14th St.

Based on all of my previous experiences here, I think this is place is a keeper and that the owners’ Jason and Joe Denton’s decision to replace their Gramercy Park upscale and pricey-beyond-justification establishment, Bar Milano with another inoteca a good one and very well timed for the city’s current economic climate.

Mastering all aspects of presenatation and preparation of menu items however will be as critical as ever now.


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