Friday, March 21, 2008

Inoteca: Creative Italian Wine Bar


We have been trying to get into Inoteca with a sizeable group for a while but they are usually all booked out for Saturdays (even when the foodie has called as early as Monday to get a table). Last Saturday we finally decided to turn up and wait it out. The hostess gave us a 2 hour wait (this is at 7:30pm!) for a table for five. Given our previous unsuccessful attempts, we were not to be deterred. They have a nice area near the bar to wait and sip wine, and that's what we did for a little over an hour, although between the wine, company and a great ambience, the wait didn't seem that long. Inoteca is a small place for its big reputation and cult-like following. The menu is all in Italian and not typical of any other Italian place we have gone too. Our waitress sensed that we were newbies there and was nice enough to patiently translate almost all of it. 


Inoteca specializes in small plates and you have go there once to figure out how to order (as our waitress said, it is like kissing, gets better everytime!). We ordered Bruschette for our starter. We got 5 pieces all with different toppings and all were delectable. We especially recommend the ricotta fresca w/pomodoro and the noci toppings. The foodie ate the soppressata panini for the main course and it was the best panini she has ever tasted (and she doesn't usually like meat). The photographer took the truffled egg toast with bottarga which is a speciality of this place and we have mentioned before when we reviewed its sister restaurant Ino. We also got to taste polpi (octopus) and the day's special cod from our friends plates, but liked the panini and the egg toast the most. Ordering for dessert involved another class in Italian - the best one was a shot of expresso poured over vanilla gelato which according to our waitress is the most popular dessert in Italy. Brava! 

We want to make a special mention of the service. Waiters were all very friendly and our waitress very patiently translated our menu for us and recommended dishes. She also recommended excellent wine when we told her our broad criteria (sweet, red, not too strong - tells you how much we know our wines!). We highly recommend you have wine (given its a wine bar first and foremost), and make that wine a Salice (sah-lee-chay). At $27 a bottle, it is also easy on your pocket for the quality. 

Our total bill including gratuity (plus 2 bottles of wine) was a reasonable $37 per person. We can see why our friends who have been to Inoteca swear by it. We would definitely go there again. 

Food: 8/10
Service: 9/10
Ambience: 8/10 

'inoteca: 98 Rivington Street (at Ludlow)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

L'asso: Great group dining on a budget

The foodie's childhood friend was visiting from Singapore and we decided to take her for something NYC does best - Pizza! After much research, reading reviews and unsuccessfully calling several places to get a reservation for 10, we finally found place at L'asso. Some reviews even called it the best pizza in the city.

The first thing you notice when you enter is the huge brick oven behind the bar in the center of the restaurant. Since our table wasn't ready, we waited at the bar with a glass of wine. I don't know if it was the service or the company that evening, but conversation flowed uninterrupted and I don't remember when we moved from the bar to our table. I just remember the wine kept flowing, accompanied by some warm bread and olive oil to start and delicious pizzas that kept coming. Our waiter looked like a hippie from the 60's and said 'cheers' after every sentence.


We ordered three 29" pizzas for our party of 10 which were sufficient. You can split the 29" pizza in two toppings so we got to taste 5 toppings that evening including the only 2 meat choices on the menu. In the foodie's opinion, the best pizza of the night was the pizza mela with gorgonzola, apple and truffle oil. A very unusual and delicious combination for a topping. 

It might be presumptuous of us to call this as the best pizza in NYC (not having tasted Grimaldi's or Lombardi's yet), but they definitely know their pies. They also claim to have the only 'legal' Neopolitan pizza in the city. All the pizzas we ordered had thin crisp crust with carefully chosen combination of cheese and other toppings. We are definitely going there again! $18 per person including wine. The dim lighting and cozy ambience makes this place versatile for a filling romantic dinner as well as a big group. The price is and the service perfect. Highly recommended.

Food: 8/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 8/10

L'asso 41 Kenmare Street, NYC

9th Street Market: Another LES gem

We went to a place called Ninth Street Market in the Lower East Side on an impulse sunday brunch outing (great winter weather you see). This place hardly has any markings but was still easy to spot because of the large group of people waiting outside. We wrote our names down on the pad hanging outside and walked around exploring the quaint shops in the hip east village neighborhood. The wait of 50 minutes was longer than expected, but the food was definitely worth it. A scruffy, bearded guy came out at regular intervals to announce the names of the next table. When we went in, we realized that he was the (quite friendly) waiter for all tables.

The foodie's breakfast toastada came with a crisp base, topped with onion, beans, cheese and two poached eggs. The home fries were spicy and crisp. The photographer's special omelette of the day was fluffy and stuffed with chorizo. It came with a side of fresh-from-the-oven bread with the best strawberry jam ever (most of which the foodie polished off). The orange juice was fresh and the service was attentive, our bottomless coffee cup was re-filled constantly.


The place is cozy and has a fireplace for an added measure of coziness. However you immediately see the reason for the long wait - it is tiny! It probably can't seat more than 20 people. The photos above cover about 98% of the floor area of the restaurant. Fresh flowers, pictures of Indian Gods (including scenes from the Mahabharata!) on the walls, and a generally run-down decor give it a very exotic neighbourhood cafe vibe. The music selection is hip remixes of old-school 80's hits. Our total bill including gratuity was $15 per person and included unlimited coffee/tea, juice and an entree.

We recommend the ninth street market brunch only if you don't mind waiting for at least 45 mins. Avoid going in big groups.

Food: 7/10
Service: 8/10
Ambience: 7/10

9th Street Market, 337 East 9th St. (between 1st and 2nd aves), New York, NY 10003