Saturday, March 05, 2005

Valentine's Day Take Two - 'inoteca and cupcakes

For actual Valentine's Day, Adam and I went to Azafran, which is a tapas place on Warren. It was alright, some dishes better than others, but given how good other tapas places are, it's nothing special and not really worth writing up.

The next night, we decided to go to 'inoteca. This Italian restaurant is a place that we've been meaning to try for quite awhile. It also happens to be about a block and a half from one of the best cupcake bakeries in the city. Sugar Sweet Sunshine is located on Rivington at about Essex, and their cupcakes are GREAT. Adam loves the pistachio ones, I love the pumpkin, but other flavors (including coconut) also get raves. In addition to coming in more interesting flavors than your run of the mill vanilla or chocolate cake with buttercream (though they do those too), they're deliciously soft, moist, and not too sweet. The pistachio and pumpkin in particular both seem like really light muffins, with the icing (cream cheese on the pumpkin) adding enough sweetness for the cupcake to become an indulgent snack instead of a breakfast food. Being the impulse food buyer that I am, I bought an assorted dozen (but only ate 3 myself that night/the next day...self control!...the rest I gave away at work) before we walked down Rivington to Ludlow for dinner.

The 'inoteca menu is divided up into many sections, with most dishes being on the smallish side and great for sharing. After a fair amount of consultation with our very friendly and helpful waiter (who bore a striking resemblance to the shockingly fair actor Jake Busey), we decided on 5 dishes.

We started with the assorted pesto bruschetta and the suppli. The 3 "pestos" were a classic pesto (excellent, probably the best of the three), noci, which is a nut spread kind of like a thin, nuttier peanut butter (very good, and gets points for uniqueness), and an olive tapanade (good, but no different from olive tapanades at many places). This was probably our least favorite dish in retrospect. The suppli were fried risotto balls. They were fantastic! The risotto was indulgently creamy with the occasional small chunk of melting cheese, and the lightly fried outside added an interesting contrasting texture to the risotto without being overly greasy or heavy.

Our next three dishes were the truffle egg toast, polenta e funghi, and lasagnette di melanzane. We opted for the egg toast without bottarga. I'm not sure what made it truffled, but picture a thick slice of good bread with a runny egg in the middle, topped with lots of nicely browned cheese. It tasted like a great brunch dish, with its rich mixture of eggs and cheese all running together. As odd as this may sound, its a dish I'd definitely order again. Either this or the suppli was my favorite of the night. The lasagnette was described as like a lasagna without noodles. However, I feel like eggplant lasagna without noodles is really just more like an eggplant Parmesan without mozzarella. The thinly layered eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheese (goat?) made for an excellent take on a familiar dish, but it was too familiar tasting to be the standout of the evening. Worth trying if you like eggplant, though. The polenta and mushrooms don't come all mixed together, as I had expected, but rather two independent mounds come together in one bowl. This was actually a very nice way to serve it, as it allowed us to appreciate the taste of the polenta (very smooth and creamy) and mushrooms (fantastic! a nice, perfectly oily sauteed pile) separately. However, mix them together for a nicely balanced, delicious dish.

Despite being pretty full (and having a box of cupcakes sitting at my feet), we decided to order dessert. Adam got a ricotta cheesecake (he LOVES ricotta cheesecake, and rarely turns it down). The cheesecake was good but I didn't like the fruit on the side. I got a special, some sort of apple torte. Both were good, but neither was as good as the best of the savory dishes that came before or the cupcake I ate later that night. Adam wasn't feeling like a cheese plate, though they have a pretty extensive list relative to the length of their regular menu. I'll be back, if only for cheese and more egg toast!


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