Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lupa: Good But a Little Awkward

Lupa is one of those restaurants which i thought had generally well-executed food, but it wasn't food that really hit the spot for me. I could appreciate it as well-cooked, reasonably well-thought-out food, but I don't really have much of a craving to go back. The restaurant is distinguished by incadenscent lights in soft round spheres, brickwork, and a livelier "front half" contrasted to a more discerning and quiet back half, separated by a short corridor. I sat at the "communal table" near the front, and though I chose to sit at the end -- my own fault -- I found the chair quite cramped, as it was nearly pressed against the radiator behind it.

Lupa's bread- basket was unusual and likeable - it consisted of two tall squares of cakelike bread, slightly sweet, with a slightly bitter-earthy aftertaste, served with an extra-virgin olive oil.

I ordered an escarole salad to start, and one immediate problem cropped up when it got to me: its size. It looked clearly enough for two, and it was weighed down with cheese like cows were going out of style. That seemed kind of artless. The escarole itself was fresh, though some of its tastiest spices seemed trapped at the very bottom, and the whole thing did not seem well-mixed or well-blended.

My second course was a bavette pasta cacio e pepe -- with cheese and peppercorns. I've tried and enjoyed an outstanding version of this dish at the eponymous East Village restaurant. Lupa's version was homey and refined, a suave cousin of macaroni and cheese, and artistic looking in its simple cheesiness and its white bowl -- and it was quite good. But it was not as solidly satisfying as the other.

Lupa's "tartufo" dessert consists of a scoop of hazelnut gelato dipped in chocolate. From the makers of Otto's gelato, I'm not surprised that this was quite a successful dessert. The gelato was nutty and very flavorful, and the chocolate shell was high-quality ganache. It was a happy finish to my meal.

Service throughout was serviceable but not incredible. Lupa is a place that is reasonably priced and looks reasonably inviting and has reasonably good food. But I didn't find it outstanding or craveable.

Stars: 4/5

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