It’s hard to believe that one week ago I was strolling through lower Manhattan and enjoying beautiful weather. At that point we already knew that Hurricane Sandy was on the way. But I was heading back home on Saturday evening ahead of the bad weather. I had lovely meals at Rosemary’s and Rubirosa, which both were affected by a loss of power and therefore closed for days following the destructive path of Sandy. As I write this post I can’t help but think about all of the people who are still dealing with the aftermath of the storm. One way I may be able to help (besides a contribution to the Red Cross)…another trip to NYC in the near future, so I can contribute directly to the economy.
Twice a month I play a game called Bonko. It’s somewhat of a mindless game involving twelve women, some dice, dinner, lots of candy, and prizes. I’m in two different Bonko groups (don’t judge me) and in one of them we contribute $10 each time we play. We’ve been collecting money for three years, which affords us a day trip to Manhattan for theater and dining.
I take the opportunity to go a day early to meet two friends for dinner at the fairly new and wildly popular Rosemary’s Enoteca & Trattoria in the West Village. The draw here is Chef Wade Moises, who worked for Mario Batali at Babbo and Lupa, Another attraction is vegetables that are just-picked off the restaurant’s roof garden. Their no-reservations policy necessitates an early dinner. I imagine getting there at 5:30 will put us in an empty dining room It’s true at first, but the restaurant fills quickly and lines begin to form.
Rosemary’s authentic Italian menu has lots of appeal, including frutti di mare, foccace, insalate, pasta, and piatti unici. No, I don’t know what it all means, but it sounds good. It’s not an overwhelming menu in terms of quantity, but the quality of choices mean some difficult decisions ahead. I’m always delighted when I dine with adventurous eaters who don’t mind trying multiple dishes. I have hit the jackpot here.
From the frutti di mare (fruit of the sea) side of the menu we begin with tuna with olives, capers, parsley, and ceci fritti (fried chickpeas). The fried chickpeas add a delightful flavor and interesting texture. This dish arrives paired with our order of Rosemary’s focaccia, simply prepared with rosemary and salt. It’s the only weak point in the entire meal. I prefer focaccia that has a little more crunch around the edges.
Octopus salame is beautiful and fresh, prepared with basil, and Sicilian gardiniere. Octopus is not something I routinely order, but I’m eager to try it. It’s in the slimy fish category that I don’t normally relish, but there is enough flavor here to distract me from my aversion.
Chopped salad “Siciliana” is a bright combination of escarole, artichoke, olives, raisins, caper berries, cherry tomatoes, ricotta salata, and sunflower seeds. The fried chickpeas make another appearance in this dish. It’s a lovely salad.
My favorite dish is the simplest: linguini with preserved lemon, pickled chili, and parmigiano. It’s perfectly tangy and just a little bit spicy. Sometimes it’s the most basic things that are the best, if prepared just right.
Aqua pazza for two completes our exploration of the menu. It’s plenty big for the three of us. (I guess so, considering everything else we’ve ordered). It’s seafood stew with mussels, clams, squid, shrimp and fish— in “crazy water” with preserved lemon potatoes, and pesto crostini. The crazy water is a savory broth made with white wine, fennel, tomato and garlic. There’s lots of flavor packed into this big bowl of goodies from the sea. Every now and again a dish comes along that I wish I could go back for when I hadn’t stuffed myself with so many other things. This is one of those dishes.
Rosemary’s has a wine list where every bottle is $40. I like this because we can focus on all of the varieties available, rather than settling on a wine based on price. We consider a Chardonnay but our server tells us “you can get that anywhere” and directs us to a Vermentino from Sardegna. It’s a perfect accompaniment to our fish. Rosemary’s is everything I hope for in an NYC dining experience: hip, happening, and heavenly food.
On Saturday I meet up with the Bonko gals. We see the delightful show “Bring It On” which far exceeds my expectations. It’s at the St. James Theater until the end of the year. If you enjoy frothy, fun shows with good music and dance and want to enjoy some breathtaking tumbling, this is a show to see. Bonus for “So You Think You Can Dance” fans. Neil Haskell is one of the leads.
After the show we head to Rubirosa in the Nolita area of the city. I first learn about Rubirosa while scanning the Michelin Guide’s 2013 Bib Gourmand list. These are restaurants that are highlighted for excellence on a budget (defined as two courses and wine or dessert for $40 a head). I’m looking for something to satisfy our group of thirteen that isn’t too pricey and isn’t too out there in terms of the food. Rubirosa’s family-style Italian seems to fit the bill. Quite honestly, as I scan the menu available to groups, I am not terribly excited. There are a variety of pizzas and pastas and traditional dishes like lasagna and eggplant parmigiano. But the reviews are quite good and the price can’t be beat ($45 a person includes three different appetizers, two types of pasta, three types of pizza, and dessert).
I’m cautiously optimistic as we enter the restaurant. The dark and narrow space with reclaimed wood and tin accents is more trendy than I would have guessed. We are led to a back room and within minutes the parade of pre-ordered food begins to arrive.
The Rubirosa salad featuring arugula, tomato, onion, mozzarella balls, tomatoes, and croutons impresses everyone. For some reason, the celery in the salad really stands out, and I mean this with all due respect for celery. I keep diving into the bowl for a few more bites.
Rice balls are filled with prosciutto, fontina and mascarpone, and served with a tomato sauce. They are delicately light and crisp and it’s hard to eat just one. So I don’t.
Mozzarella sticks is the dish I am least excited about, which is exactly why it ends up delighting me. The cheese is freshly made and oozes delicately through the crisp and lightly salted exterior. I don’t dare dip it in the sauce, as I don’t want anything to distract me from the flavor of the mozzarella.
Pizza. I hope it’s okay to use French when describing Italian food. This is the real piece-De-resistance. I can go on ad nauseam (and I do) about how I am constantly in search of a crispy and flavorful pizza crust. I have found it here. This pizza is so crispy that it makes me feel like weeping with joy. We have three varieties: vodka pizza with vodka sauce and fresh mozzarella, caprese with pesto, tomato, and homemade stracciatella cheese, and pizza with sausage and broccoli rabe. If I have to pick a favorite, I’ll go with the sausage and broccoli rabe. But they are all pretty great.
Spaghetti alla chittara with tomato, basil and parmigiano has a nice mellow flavor. I like it enough to go back for another taste. The spinach campenelle with mushrooms, garlic and cream is more interesting.
We are happily stuffed but dessert arrives and we have to make room for zeppoli, cannoli, and pignoli cookies. At first I don’t think I like pignoli cookies, but my friends are raving and I can’t resist a rave. I love them! The cannoli are stellar as well. The seven layer Italian cookies are aptly described by one of my friends as “synagogue cookies.” If you go to synagogue and stay for the cookies, you know what I mean.
I like that Rubirosa reintroduces me to some classic dishes. I wouldn’t have predicted how much I could enjoy a mozarella stick. But nothing can compare to the thrill of finding that elusive crispy crusted pizza .
Rosemary’s and Rubirosa share more than their Italian heritage. They each expertly combine a fun approach to seriously good food. There comes a time in a game of Bonko where you realize the roll of the dice has made you a winner. I’ve rolled the dice in New York City, and will savor my winnings for quite some time.
Rosemary’s, 18 Greenwich Avenue, NY, NY
Rubirosa, 235 Mulberry Street, NY, NY