Where pizza and pasta get a hip, affordable red carpet: Review of Plum

BY ELENA MANCINI

Plum Pizzeria and Bar
157 Second Avenue (btwn. 9th and 10th Sts.)
East Village
212-375-9555
plumnyc.com/
Catering and Delivery service available

Small half plain, half mushrooms and peppers pizza at Plum

Small half plain, half mushrooms and peppers pizza at Plum

Pizza and pasta–those hearty and humble components of a deliciously satisfying meal that New Yorkers are so fond of, don’t often get the respect they deserve. All too frequently, respectable, well-executed pies and good pastas are saddled with  carafes of cheap house wine and generic appetizers and desserts.  Many of you will be quick and right in pointing out that the artisinal pizza trend that has monopolized New York food news the past two years. And, sure there’s no denying the fact that NYC has witnessed a flowering of upscale pizza ovens and the masses of seemingly overnight pizza cognoscenti. And a good many of them are run by vertiable pizza masters, and surely churn out a damn good pizza Napoletana. But in many instances, the hype outweighs the value  (read Co. and Pulino) and actual output. Not to mention getting a square inch of table space and the time of day from overworked, frustrated or snooty service staff often costs patrons interminable waits and walk the plank-like treatment.

Plum offers a refreshing updated take on both of these beloved foods. Championing the premise that pizza and pasta can well be main characters of a fine dining experience, indeed the heart and soul of one, and easily accommodated with an excellent bottle of wine. Co-owners and long-time friends and New York Pizza veterans, Alex Alexopoulos and Adonis Nikoloulis, deliver on this principle by taking a number of thoughtful, inventive and consumer-friendly approaches that are reflected in the menu, winelist, decor and friendly service. One of the first thing that stands out when getting past a rather non-descript storefront, is a pizza oven and a bar area housed in a dimly lit, sleek, but cozy dining area. The decor is warm and tastefully understated with internationally-themed vintage posters adorning exposed brick walls. The penchant for things international is also prominently reflected in Plum’s extensive wine list. Its selections represent a variety of price points and  by-the-glass wines options featuring  twenty reds and whites from around the globe. With prices ranging from $8-$13, selections  include Chilean reds, Alsatian Rieslings, Lambrusco, premiere champagne options and a range of prosecchi (prices range from $8-$13). The full bar at Plum also features a wide range of imported brews and cocktails.

THE PIZZAS:

Small sausage and onions pie at Plum

Small sausage and onions pizza at Plum

At a temperature of about 680-700 degrees, Plum’s gas fueled oven churns out pies that are baked to perfection.  Evenly baked with a thin crust that can not only withstand the weight of its toppings without sagging, but can easily be folded and eaten straight out of hand without making a sloppy greasy  mess. The baking technique and a judicious topping distribution, ensures that no excess pools of oil, so much so that a tipped slice will produce no drops. The pizza entrees come in three sizes (mini- $9.95; small -$15 and large – $17) and are fully customizable with an array of fresh, seasonal toppings. Some of the standard ingredients that help make Plum’s a truly memorable pie is the fresh, plum tomato sauce, the fresh homemade mozzarella and the Greek-imported olive oil. The sauce has a medium viscosity and has a naturally sweet flavor with a slight hint of acidity. Toppings are subjective, but a great, flavor-packed combination is the sausage, red onion. The lean pork sausage is released from the casing and crumbled onto the pie, and the thinly sliced onions and a measure of textured, sweetness that generates mmmhs of pleasure.  A vegetarian favorite of mine is the arugula-topped pie, which features a fresh thicket of wild baby arugula placed onto the tomato-mozzarella based pie.

THE PASTAS

Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli at Plum

Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli at Plum

The pasta menu features numerous Italian-American inspired classics, often  in a lighter, updated guise, as well inventive pasta dishes. The  Fettucine Carbonara is a case in point for Plum’s innovative spin on a standard favorite.  A generous bowl of perfectly al dente fettucine came glistening under a thin coating of white wine reduction cream sauce instead of the usual egg based condiment. A rich handful of shitake mushrooms, strips of pancetta that irradiated an irresistable smoky flavor to the whole and a dash of fresh peas for color made this an inspired, thoughtful, and above all delicious dish. While I am a lover of Carbonara, the liberties taken here positively enhanced the dish to make it lighter, more edible and exciting.

White sauce also stands to take a well-deserved bow at Plum with its Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli with Pistacchio Sauce. The dish comes with seven toothsome pumpkin-flavored dough ovals filled with a velvety, lightly spiced pumpkin filling under a thick, satiny sheen of white wine sauce and a generous sprinkle of whole pistacchio nuts.

The beloved Italian-American classic of Penne alla Vodka is also an excellent choice. Prepared with a light pink sauce with a tomato sauce base imported from Italy. It’s favorably reinterpreted with some sparsely scattered strips of pancetta, giving it more depth and personality.

Rigatoni alla Bolognese at Plum

Rigatoni alla Bolognese at Plum (Tasting portion)

While Plum takes inspired liberties on some Italian and Italian American classics, it also executes the staples in their traditionalist form.  Their  Rigatoni alla Bolognese would certainly withstand the test of any genuine Italian Sunday feast, as well as do the nonninas proud. The sauce is prepared in the traditional slow-cooked tomato-based ragu fashion, loaded with lean ground beef,  minced celery, carrots and herbs.

Most pastas are $16.95 for individual portions and in the low $30 range for sharable platter-size portions that serve four.

APPETIZERS AND DESSERT

The appetizer menu includes an array of fresh salads, including a Caprese made with homemade mozzarella over thick slices of Lucky’s tomatoes,  platters of Italian-imported charcuterie and a variety of bruschette.

Meals can be finished with a $7 dessert of the day that features a rotating specialty from a variety of local bakeries and dessert shops.

Emphasizing premium-quality ingredients, an inspired combination of Mediterranean culinary tradition and innovation, and warm, contemporary ambiance, Plum will appeal to discerning palates and their wallets too.

ALSO WORTH NOTING:

Plum is open for weekend brunch (11:30 – 4), and features a popular Cognac and Greek honey infused French Toast.

*Note this review is based on a series of visits to Plum over a six month period, one of which included a Press Tasting Dinner Event.

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Where pizza and pasta get a hip, affordable red carpet: Review of Plum

BY ELENA MANCINI

Plum Pizzeria and Bar
157 Second Avenue (btwn. 9th and 10th Sts.)
East Village
212-375-9555
plumnyc.com/
Catering and Delivery service available

Small half plain, half mushrooms and peppers pizza at Plum

Small half plain, half mushrooms and peppers pizza at Plum

Pizza and pasta–those hearty and humble components of a deliciously satisfying meal that New Yorkers are so fond of, don’t often get the respect they deserve. All too frequently, respectable, well-executed pies and good pastas are saddled with  carafes of cheap house wine and generic appetizers and desserts.  Many of you will be quick and right in pointing out that the artisinal pizza trend that has monopolized New York food news the past two years. And, sure there’s no denying the fact that NYC has witnessed a flowering of upscale pizza ovens and the masses of seemingly overnight pizza cognoscenti. And a good many of them are run by vertiable pizza masters, and surely churn out a damn good pizza Napoletana. But in many instances, the hype outweighs the value  (read Co. and Pulino) and actual output. Not to mention getting a square inch of table space and the time of day from overworked, frustrated or snooty service staff often costs patrons interminable waits and walk the plank-like treatment.

Plum offers a refreshing updated take on both of these beloved foods. Championing the premise that pizza and pasta can well be main characters of a fine dining experience, indeed the heart and soul of one, and easily accommodated with an excellent bottle of wine. Co-owners and long-time friends and New York Pizza veterans, Alex Alexopoulos and Adonis Nikoloulis, deliver on this principle by taking a number of thoughtful, inventive and consumer-friendly approaches that are reflected in the menu, winelist, decor and friendly service. One of the first thing that stands out when getting past a rather non-descript storefront, is a pizza oven and a bar area housed in a dimly lit, sleek, but cozy dining area. The decor is warm and tastefully understated with internationally-themed vintage posters adorning exposed brick walls. The penchant for things international is also prominently reflected in Plum’s extensive wine list. Its selections represent a variety of price points and  by-the-glass wines options featuring  twenty reds and whites from around the globe. With prices ranging from $8-$13, selections  include Chilean reds, Alsatian Rieslings, Lambrusco, premiere champagne options and a range of prosecchi (prices range from $8-$13). The full bar at Plum also features a wide range of imported brews and cocktails.

THE PIZZAS:

Small sausage and onions pie at Plum

Small sausage and onions pizza at Plum

At a temperature of about 680-700 degrees, Plum’s gas fueled oven churns out pies that are baked to perfection.  Evenly baked with a thin crust that can not only withstand the weight of its toppings without sagging, but can easily be folded and eaten straight out of hand without making a sloppy greasy  mess. The baking technique and a judicious topping distribution, ensures that no excess pools of oil, so much so that a tipped slice will produce no drops. The pizza entrees come in three sizes (mini- $9.95; small -$15 and large – $17) and are fully customizable with an array of fresh, seasonal toppings. Some of the standard ingredients that help make Plum’s a truly memorable pie is the fresh, plum tomato sauce, the fresh homemade mozzarella and the Greek-imported olive oil. The sauce has a medium viscosity and has a naturally sweet flavor with a slight hint of acidity. Toppings are subjective, but a great, flavor-packed combination is the sausage, red onion. The lean pork sausage is released from the casing and crumbled onto the pie, and the thinly sliced onions and a measure of textured, sweetness that generates mmmhs of pleasure.  A vegetarian favorite of mine is the arugula-topped pie, which features a fresh thicket of wild baby arugula placed onto the tomato-mozzarella based pie.

THE PASTAS

Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli at Plum

Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli at Plum

The pasta menu features numerous Italian-American inspired classics, often  in a lighter, updated guise, as well inventive pasta dishes. The  Fettucine Carbonara is a case in point for Plum’s innovative spin on a standard favorite.  A generous bowl of perfectly al dente fettucine came glistening under a thin coating of white wine reduction cream sauce instead of the usual egg based condiment. A rich handful of shitake mushrooms, strips of pancetta that irradiated an irresistable smoky flavor to the whole and a dash of fresh peas for color made this an inspired, thoughtful, and above all delicious dish. While I am a lover of Carbonara, the liberties taken here positively enhanced the dish to make it lighter, more edible and exciting.

White sauce also stands to take a well-deserved bow at Plum with its Yellow Pumpkin Ravioli with Pistacchio Sauce. The dish comes with seven toothsome pumpkin-flavored dough ovals filled with a velvety, lightly spiced pumpkin filling under a thick, satiny sheen of white wine sauce and a generous sprinkle of whole pistacchio nuts.

The beloved Italian-American classic of Penne alla Vodka is also an excellent choice. Prepared with a light pink sauce with a tomato sauce base imported from Italy. It’s favorably reinterpreted with some sparsely scattered strips of pancetta, giving it more depth and personality.

Rigatoni alla Bolognese at Plum

Rigatoni alla Bolognese at Plum (Tasting portion)

While Plum takes inspired liberties on some Italian and Italian American classics, it also executes the staples in their traditionalist form.  Their  Rigatoni alla Bolognese would certainly withstand the test of any genuine Italian Sunday feast, as well as do the nonninas proud. The sauce is prepared in the traditional slow-cooked tomato-based ragu fashion, loaded with lean ground beef,  minced celery, carrots and herbs.

Most pastas are $16.95 for individual portions and in the low $30 range for sharable platter-size portions that serve four.

APPETIZERS AND DESSERT

The appetizer menu includes an array of fresh salads, including a Caprese made with homemade mozzarella over thick slices of Lucky’s tomatoes,  platters of Italian-imported charcuterie and a variety of bruschette.

Meals can be finished with a $7 dessert of the day that features a rotating specialty from a variety of local bakeries and dessert shops.

Emphasizing premium-quality ingredients, an inspired combination of Mediterranean culinary tradition and innovation, and warm, contemporary ambiance, Plum will appeal to discerning palates and their wallets too.

ALSO WORTH NOTING:

Plum is open for weekend brunch (11:30 – 4), and features a popular Cognac and Greek honey infused French Toast.

*Note this review is based on a series of visits to Plum over a six month period, one of which included a Press Tasting Dinner Event.

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High-priced mediocrity- Review of Via Quadronno

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

VIA QUADRONNO
25 East 73rd. Street

between Madison & 5th Ave.
Upper East Side
, Manhattan
212.650.9880Fax: 212.650.9801 / Email: info@VQNYC.com
viaquadronno.com/press.html

Hours
Mon – Fri: 8am – 11pm
Sat: 9am – 11pm
Sun: 10am – 9pm

Interior of Via Quadronno

Interior of Via Quadronno

When I decided to invite to dinner my friends the anthropologists, in one of their yearly cameo appearances in New York, I chose the restaurant Via Quadronno.  It was close to their hotel. It had a reputation for fine food,  serving authentic Northern Italian fare.   Since I had recently been introduced to the joys of Irish pig-keeping, I was delighted to find the restaurant’s emblem was a sprightly flying pig, emblazoned on the wall directly opposite our table.  The restaurant explained:

“Mankind trained dogs and pigs to sniff for white truffles, assisting in the quest for this heavenly treat. Wild boars don’t need training: they instinctively know how to locate truffles, for they have been enjoying them for millennia. It is the boar’s nose for truffles that helped fuel his reputation as the undisputed gourmet of the animal kingdom

I should have had the sense to pay attention to this very broad hint that pork or bacon or ham would be the thing to shoot for at Via Quadronno.

But we were foolish, or let’s say I was foolish.  I was seduced by the convenience of the location, barely two blocks away from my friends’ hotel.  And by the brilliant flashing blue lights of their Christmas decorations—bright blue teardrops, lights set in trees, constantly appearing to drip and fall down the branches, brilliantly illuminating the place. It was just gorgeous, gorgeous. Of course, I reasoned, a place that pays this kind of attention to detail and presentation would also have only delicious specialties. We could hardly go wrong.

Well.  At first it was fine. We got a charming young waiter, evidently Italian, a weightlifter with amazing tattooed arms,  who was very eager to help us choose red wine and to urge us to go for a bottle as opposed to a series of glasses.  And the wine was delicious- a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2008 – as its blurb stated, it was “smooth with a lingering, slightly peppery finish. “  Bravo to the peppery finish!

We loved the wine.  And it fuelled our conversation.  We were determined to pay homage to the spirit of the flying pig overhead.

My friends, who had just spent time conducting anthropological interviews for a relief agency, with Central American disaster survivors, noted  that their local guides tended to be their cabdrivers, often the first point of contact for a foreigner.  Similarly, in Ethiopia,  as I said, my driver, a former colonel under Haile Selassie,  got us both out of a bad brush with the army, out in the desert ,  and continued to send me Christmas cards a decade after I had left.

But no matter how entertaining the conversation, the meal – minus pork, bacon or ham- was nearly a disaster. They wanted to love the food, so did I, but we couldn’t.

Luckily, I was the one who took the worst hit. (Or made the wrong choice.)   Gnocchi with pesto was the consistency of library paste, both the sauce and the filling, which quickly got cold and lifeless.   I could scarcely finish half of it — and I never turn down a good meal.  My friends also ate slowly and with evident hesitation- very uncharacteristic.  Signifying dissatisfaction.   One had the risotto, which she said, delicately, was nothing special;  her husband’s opinion of his petto di pollo was that it was a fair piece of chicken but nothing that should give the restaurant four stars.  It could have been lifted from the plates of a fair to middling diner.

Secondly, the wine! We were determined to enjoy ourselves, if not with the food, then with the wine. But, when we finished the first bottle the restaurant didn’t have a second bottle of the same vintage, and offered us a different kind, with a screw top.  We all felt uncomfortable with screw top bottles (especially at these prices), despite the fact that the wine was acceptable.

We wrapped up this dismal meal with some excellent butter cookies and cappuccinos, but this perfunctory dessert alone could not save the meal.

In sum: despite the lovely ambiance and the charming waiter, we spent a great deal too much on mediocre or bad food at this time.

If you’re a local, and you can navigate the menu and the timing of their freshly-cooked meals, grabbing the right time and entrée, you can undoubtedly get good food here.  But I found myself thinking of my dearly departed original neighborhood Twin Donuts, where a breaded chicken breast would be called the Chicken Don Blue (their version of Cordon Bleu; they also had a Veal Don Blue) and would cost a cool $5.95.    Now that’s a meal, and a deal.

Coda:  And on the homeward route to northern Manhattan., I relived the conversation. My cabdriver, a charming Nigerian named Mike, a student of New York history via the Encyclopedia of New York City and Gotham, was lively, funny, and very sharp.  He corrected me on points of local history such as the origins of the name Spuyten Duyvil.  A wonderful ride.   Even poor food could not entirely spoil this evening.

But don’t order the gnocchi!

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Tarallucci e Vino brings a taste of Italy to Union Square

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Tarallucci e Vino*
15 E. 18th St.
Union Square / Flatiron District – Manhattan
212-228-5400 /
taralluccievino.net/

On a cold wintry night, six New York City strangers wandered the night seeking one of New York’s revered dining establishments.

A few disagreements later, they ended up at a warm and wonderful Italian restaurant – in one area of what seemed like an endless city.

Panino at Tarallucci e Vino

Panino at Tarallucci e Vino

That was January 2009, before I ever planned on moving here. But I finally stumbled upon this memorable restaurant again and had to retry it, to see if I was just a jaded tourist or if it truly was as magnificent as I remembered. [Read more...]

Home Cooking from the Italian Islands of Sicily and Sardinia – Review of Acqua

BY CLAIRE McCURDY

ACQUA
718 Amsterdam Avenue @95th Street
Upper West Side
212-222-2752 /acquanyc.com

The interior at Acqua

Image courtesy of acquanyc.com

An exterior of cerulean blue,  very appealing on an otherwise somewhat dreary block, “sails” hanging in swags from the ceilings, so that you are meant to feel you’re on a ship under full sail; undulating  walls at the entryway with teak and brass portholes; mellow sconce lights; wooden ceiling fan and walls of a warm cinnabar—it’s clear from the outset that Acqua ‘s décor is meant to evoke the sea and the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.  It is very attractive and calming, setting the diner at rest.  As they say themselves, it’s a comfortable neighborhood setting. [Read more...]

“Location, location and….” A Review of Nero d’Avola

“Location, location and…?”  -  A Review of Nero D’Avola

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Nero D’ Avola
46 Gansevoort Street
Meatpacking District
212-675-5224/
nerodavolanyc.com

I had wanted to try out Nero D’ Avola (AKA Nero) for a long time.  I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I’m a Meatpacking lover and the location sold it for me.  A few of my friends had also been there for various occasions and didn’t have anything bad to say about it, not to mention it was on the MTV show The City.  Don’t get me wrong, none of these things made it a credible destination but I decided it would be a good place to take a friend of mine from Miami.

Orecchiette at Nero D’ Avola

Orecchiette at Nero D’ Avola

We showed up without reservations and were seated next to the door.  Not ideal, but there really wasn’t another seat in the house.  The place was smaller than I had imagined, packed with twenty-somethings on dates, celebrating a birthday, etc., all dressed to the nines no doubt ready to hit up their favorite Meatpacking club after dinner.  [Read more...]

"Location, location and…." A Review of Nero d'Avola

“Location, location and…?”  -  A Review of Nero D’Avola

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Nero D’ Avola
46 Gansevoort Street
Meatpacking District
212-675-5224/
nerodavolanyc.com

I had wanted to try out Nero D’ Avola (AKA Nero) for a long time.  I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I’m a Meatpacking lover and the location sold it for me.  A few of my friends had also been there for various occasions and didn’t have anything bad to say about it, not to mention it was on the MTV show The City.  Don’t get me wrong, none of these things made it a credible destination but I decided it would be a good place to take a friend of mine from Miami.

Orecchiette at Nero D’ Avola

Orecchiette at Nero D’ Avola

We showed up without reservations and were seated next to the door.  Not ideal, but there really wasn’t another seat in the house.  The place was smaller than I had imagined, packed with twenty-somethings on dates, celebrating a birthday, etc., all dressed to the nines no doubt ready to hit up their favorite Meatpacking club after dinner.  [Read more...]

Gottino

A secret garden within a secret garden –  A Review of  Gottino

BY ELENA MANCINI

52 Greenwich Ave.,
West Village
212-633-2590 –
http://www.ilovegottino.com/

Inconspicuously housed behind a charming storefront of an otherwise bustling  West Village artery,  Gottino offers a garden of delectable pleasures– both literally and figuratively. In the warmer months it’s possible to savor inventively-combined gourmet delights and discover a list of select, non-generic Italian wines in the sweet, ivy-laced garden of this adorably ambitious “gastroteca,” as chef/owner Jody Williams insists on calling her debut gem.

N'duja

N'duja

The menu features seasonal small plates, salumi and artisinal cheeses representing all regions of Italy. It’s the perfect place to satisfy the urge for a “spuntino,” a small bite in between meals.
[Read more...]

Tarallucci e Vino

Flat Iron District, 18th St. btwn. 5th and Broadway or East Village, 1st Avenue, corner of E. 10th St.

In these tight times, Tarallucci e Vino has locked down a winning formula with its assaggi, otherwise known as small tastes. But this place is about more than just smart sizing and packaging. How do I know this? 1. I’m a regular. 2. Tarallucci e Vino is on the radar of virtually every Flat Iron-Union Square- boho-yipster Italian touring downtown. A typical weekend afternoon scene is thirty-and- forty-something Italian couples sitting outside discussing whether to order the panini or a salad while leafing through La Repubblica or reviewing the Euro-over-dollar deals they grabbed at the nearby Diesel . [Read more...]