By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
A trio of "land" selections comprises roast chicken, a 10-ounce filet mignon, and a $45 Harris Ranch porterhouse steak. It would make more sense to diversify the three by substituting pork, lamb, or duck for the second beef, but be that as it may, the 22-ounce porterhouse was hefty, hearty, and supremely tender. On the other hoof, it lacked sizzle, seasoning, and the smoky essence of burning wood characteristic of a "Florentine" steak. At least the olive oil poured upon the meat came from Tuscany.
Pastas are priced more affordably than other entrées, and are plated in full or half orders — the latter generously portioned. They are also incredibly delicious. Thick tubes of paccheri, originated long ago so they could be stuffed with Italian garlic in order to smuggle the banned cloves into Austria, came flecked with diced pork cheeks in a porcini cream sauce speckled with the mushrooms. Wow. A half plate of fettuccine boasted a whole lobster tail, as well as small morsels of the crustacean, tossed with rich lobster sauce ingeniously mingled with mint. Hoo-boy. A salad and half-pasta will cost $20 to $25, which isn't bad for so gratifying a meal.
An exemplary salad to choose would be the one composed of red and golden beets, long rectangles of which are stacked log-cabin-style and capped with warm, pungent Humboldt Fog goat cheese and a scattering of sweetened walnuts. Circling the plate is a frilly border of frisée, whose well-balanced flavors and textures are finished with olive oil and softly aged balsamic vinegar. Arugula leaves dressed with lemon-garlic vinaigrette and topped with parmesan shavings were tasty too, though wedges of "vine-ripened" tomatoes were so pale and tasteless that if word of these got back to Mr. Rota's hometown, I imagine the chef would be in danger of having his Italian citizenship revoked.
The dessert menu is brilliant, a diverse array of light treats unburdened by cloying sweetness. As with the savory foods, only a few components are combined in each offering, a style that permits small gestures to loom large. The subtle anise infusion of fresh tarragon into a light meringue topping lifted what would have been merely a flawlessly prepared sour lemon custard tart into a distinct and memorable pastry. Another inspired idea is to substitute tart red plums for apples in the traditional French tarte tatin. A scoop of fresh cream gelato chaperoned the pie in high style, as did raspberries and blackberries the size of strawberries. Flourless chocolate espresso cake, with obligatory molten center, gets accessorized with matching cappuccino ice cream, and was superior to other renditions around town.
Bhozan, our Macedonian summer guest, at meal's end volunteered, "This is the best food I have had since coming here." Jeez, we've taken him to a lot of fancy-schmancy restaurants, and my wife and I have cooked for him too.... Come to think of it, what an insensitive, ungrateful thing for him to have said! But he is correct. This was, indeed, the purest, tastiest cuisine I've eaten not only since Bo arrived, but also for some time prior. Let's hope Pietro Rota keeps the fine fare flowing — and, unlike his predecessors, doesn't ebb too soon.