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Scenes From an Italian Restaurant

June 19, 2012

It was not intentional, I swear.  I did not mean to book another chef’s tasting exactly 2 days after a marathon of a meal at Roberta’s (now renamed Blanca).  But as luck would have it, the only open dates that worked with our schedule for Roberta’s fell during the same week as Torrisi’s, the chef’s tasting that I had scheduled exactly 30 days ago.  Not willing to give either one up, I with MD in tow, arrived at Torrisi’s on Mulberry for a late seating on a Friday night in May.

Torrisi’s has gained quite a following since it opened a few years ago as a short tasting with no formal reservations taken.  Now the restaurant has not only expanded to next door with a more casual establishment, Parm, but it has also added a more extensive chef’s tasting to its original tasting menu.  Hearing nothing but amazing things about the playful chef’s tasting, I knew I had to repay Torrisi’s a visit.

The space remained unchanged from its earlier days, a small space that’s a tight squeeze, dark and inviting.  The walls are still lined with Italian pantry items such as spaghetti and San Marzano tomatoes and just above my head, a large poster of Billy Joel.  As soon as we were seated, two glasses of non-alcoholic cocktail arrived.

“This is a non-alcoholic cocktail of orange bitters”  The waiter mentioned after announcing that they do not yet have a hard liquor license.

A few sips of the mocktail and we were ready to get started with the tasting.  A few snacks to get things under the way:  warm soft pretzel bites sprinkled with mushroom dust and caraway seeds, a quail egg soaked in olive brine, sable cigarettes and oyster and little neck duo.  The quail eggs and the sable cigarettes were instant hits.  The quail egg, meant to resemble olives, captured the essence beautifully and the sable cigarettes were just so fun to eat with the coloful roe and poppy seed “ash”.  How cheeky and fun!

a) Pretzels
b) The Quail’s Olive
c) Sable Cigarette
d) Montauk Pearl Oysters & Little Neck Clam

Just to prove that they can do even better, the next few plates did just that.  Two little miniature pieces of toast for the rabbit and broad bean terrine, one bite of chicken, poached and fried in oyster sauce served with Tiffany’s oyster forks were both flavorful and delicious.  But what took the cake were the two caviar dishes.  The first, came in the most adorable vessel.  A hand painted egg shell nestled in grass was filled with asparagus and lavender sabayon and topped with mountain caviar.  What’s mountain caviar, I asked.  A type of seed apparently that looked and tasted like the real thing.  The strange combination of the asparagus, lavender sabayon, and mountain caviar shouldn’t have worked but it did.  Of course, Torrisi’s wasn’t just going to tease us with the mountain caviar, the real thing came out right away atop a potato leek filled buckwheat toast.

a) Rabbit Terrine
b) Mountain Caviar
c) Buckwheat Caviar Knish
d) Cashew Chicken

Just one more look at the absolutely adorable presentation of the mountain caviar.

A primavera salad with toasted rigatoni noodles and full of textures and flavor, along with a mackerel served with smoked tomato water table side, started the more substantial portion of the meal.  Next, was one of the best steak tartares I have ever had.  The small portion of tender Delmonico’s steak was topped with a bernaise sauce in the shape of an egg yolk and a ring of cornichons.  A plate of thick cut roasted potato slices replaced your typical potato chips.  I could have used another serving of these addicting potato “chips”. And the foie gras?  What can I say, I am always a sucker for a silky sweet goose liver.

a) Pasta Primavera
b) Mackerel in Crazy Water
c) Delmonico Steak Tartare
d) Foie Gras Newberg

Coming off of a high with the steak tartare and the foie gras, the ricotta gnocchi and spaghettini were slightly disappointing.  But the chicken liver filled ravioli brought the game back to the original level.  One bite filled with savory and creamy liver, left a hint of bitter and me wanting more.

a) Sheep Milk Ricotta Gnocchi
b) Blue Crab Spaghettini
c) Ravioli Caruso
d) Jewish Lamb

The final savory dish of the night was The Jewish lamb, served with Manischewitz, Jerusalem artichokes and grapes.  The full rack of lamb rib was presented to us before whisked away.  What came back was a plate of tender, perfectly medium rare lamb’s rib, sweet and sour from the agrodolce and the wine.

At this point, MD and I looked at each other, both starting to feel full.  But no worries, a small bowl of bitter greens helped cut all the rich food we had just consumed and for us forge ahead.  The cheese course, a play on a cheese danish, was topped with caramelized onion and soft cow’s milk cheese.  Preceded by two small cups of ginger Italian ice, the Maraschino float made quite an entrance.  The plate, with its edible candied straw and Maraschino cherry foam, looked like a playground for adults.  Eaten separately, each component seemed a little out of place but when eaten together, all flavors combined to resemble a cherry float and childhood memories.

a) Bitter Greens
b) Cheese Danish
c) Ginger Italian Ice
d) Maraschino Float

Finally, before bringing our checks, a plate of Italian pastries from Ferrara Bakery to wrap up the meal.  While Italian pastries are usually not my cup of tea, these were surprisingly light and not coyingly sweet.  Not sure if MD was nearly as happy with the platter though sans rainbow cookies he had been so looking forward to since seeing it at the next table over.

Sensing the disappointment in MD’s face and his voice, our waiter brought a little box along with our check and a copy of the menu.  Tearing into the packaging, all was saved when a little piece of rainbow cookie appeared.  Ah, how easy it is to satisfy us sometimes.  A little bit of cheeky humor with delicious ingredients made for an amazingly whimsical night that I still think of so fondly.

Torrisi’s | 250 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10012 | http://www.torrisinyc.com/

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