Site Search
Friday
Oct092009

Sora Lella: A Little Taste of Italy in Soho

Right after graduation, a few friends and I decided to take on the age-old tradition of a grand trip through Europe for a couple of weeks before work and grown-up life really started.  We contemplated doing a true romp through a dizzying array of countries but then decided that it would be significantly more interesting to spend a lot of time in a few choice locations to truly understand the culture and vibe of a country.  We finally settled on Italy and Greece since we all loved Greek and Roman history and thought it'd be interesting to see the contrasts between the two.  Our itinerary:

In Greece: Athens, Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini

In Turkey: Kusadasi and the ruins of Ephesus

In Italy: Venice, Milan, Rome

 

We ate very, very well on this whirlwind of a trip from the ubiquitous and cheap gyros throughout Greece (note on pronunciation: try not to pronounce this "jai-ro"), ice-cream + coffee frappes, simply prepared and intensely fresh seafood, stuffed grape leaves all the way through to the pastas and lovely, seasonal cuisine of Italy.  The one regret I do have is that I wasn't as obsessed with food as I am these days and therefore, didn't really take the time to dive into the vibrant culinary scenes in these two countries (nor did i have the budget at the time so it was probably for the best!). I did easily fall in love with Italy despite this fact for the beautiful architecture, people and the sound of the language and I've been dying to go back to do a proper food visit - I foresee some truffle hunting and italian lessons in my future :)

 

A friend said to me recently that one reason NY is so unique is because you can literally go around the world (in a culinary sense) by simply wandering from one neighborhood to the next, whether it's Greek in Astoria, Chinese in Chinatown, Ukranian in the East Village or Italian virtually anywhere.  Sora Lella is a special treat because of the philosophy of the owners who have said things like "Our cuisine is strictly linked to our region, our products and traditions. We recuperate forgotten dishes that have been disregarded by diets and trends and make them our own.”  The original famed Sora Lella was started over 50 years ago in Rome by Elena Fabrizi Trabalzi, sister of the famous Italian actor Aldo Fabrizi and an actress in her own right. I think they accomplished their goal because Sora Lella does feel like a little bit of the heart of Italy transplanted to West Soho.  I was invited to the restaurant recently by a member of the PR team at Sora Lella and I gladly accepted the chance to go back a second time and do a proper review(my first visit was a few months after they first opened).

___________________________________________________________________________________________

The Decor: (7.5/10)

 

Sora Lella has a lovely, airy dining room crowned by very high ceilings and a wall of windows at the front.  We were there on a particularly blustery, windy wednesday night so the restaurant was rather quiet but the other time I dined there, it was packed and quite energetic.  I would have preferred slightly dimmer lighting and a more varied/contemporary music selection but otherwise, we were very comfortable and we had extremely friendly service.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

The Food: (8/10) (Desserts merit a 9/10)

 

Sora Lella by you.

Caprese 3000 (Caprese de "tremila" ), $18

This dish was a bit of a knock-out - I'm a huge fan of the regular mozzarella + tomato + basil combo but the reinterpretation of this dish was spot-on.  As much as I adore molecular gastronomy, a lot of times the tastiness of the dish gets lost in how cerebral you have to be to enjoy it.  Oftentimes, it feels like a chef is just messing with a dish just for the sake of reinventing it.  This particular reinvention was brilliant though - the tomato gelee was intensely fresh and packed with tomato flavor and the mozzarella was somehow incorporated into a panna-cotta-ish consistency.  The overall combination was incredibly refreshing, bright and embodied all the best parts of each ingredient.  The basil pesto was also delicious and paired nicely with the other elements.  You're supposed to slice off a piece of each ingredient and put it all together - I thought it'd be rather interesting if they presened this slightly differently by molding this together in a way that you'd have alternating layers of mozzarella and tomato as the basil pesto held it together.

 

Grandmother's traditional meatballs served in white wine sauce (Polpettine della "Nonna" al vino bianco), $12

These meatballs had a lovely white wine sauce and a very pretty presentation but we couldn't get over the texture of the meatballs.  My friend B felt that the meatballs were way too dense and lacked the airiness that would have been ideal. 

 

Parmigiana Eggplant with Ricotta cheese, walnuts and honey

I'm not a huge fan of eggplant but this eggplant parmigiana was really delicious - just cheesy enough and the touch of honey adds layers of depth to the dish that I could never have imagined.  The blend of salty, cheesy and a light touch of sweetness made the eggplant really stand out.  The only complaint our table had about the dish was the addition of the walnuts (pretty large chunks) which didn't add much flavor or desireable texture to the dish.

 

Sora Lella by you.

 Rice croquettes with tomato, pancetta and mozzarella (Suppli all'amatriciana con  pomodoro e pancetta), $4

Yummy, yummy, yummy and the price is certainly right.  These rice croquettes are part of the excellent bar menu at Sora Lella and highly, highly recommended - crispy on the outside, creamy from the mozzarella and lots of pancetta flavor in the rice.  There's an excellent happy hour from 5-7:30 daily with complimentary snacks (zucchini fries and bruschetta) and discounted wines/cocktails.  Bar menu and happy hour details here.

 

Homemade Tonnarelli with sausage, cured pork belly and walnuts (Tonnarelli alla Cuccagna), $22

This is one dish Sora Lella is famous for and justifiably very proud of.  It's a 50-year old recipe that has been unchanged and probably just as unique today as it was back then.  There's an abundance of flavors playing around in this dish and the homemade noodles are wonderfuly chewy and al dente.  I'm a sucker for pork belly in any form and it's not an overwhelming element of this dish but adds just the right touch of fattiness and savouryness that the dish needed.  The crushed walnuts make this feel like a peso pasta dish (which I'm not a huge fan of) but added really great flavor.  Overall, a great dish for fall and heavy enough to ward off the chill of the cooling weather.

 

Home-made potato gnocchi in a class Roman sauce of smoked guanciale and tomatoes (Gnocchi di patate all'amatriciana), $18

This is a serious plate of comfort food - oversized, fluffy gnocchi in a very simple tomato and guanciale (cured pork jowl) sauce.  This is also one of those dishes that really grows on you with every bite - at first, it seemed pretty simple and unremarkable but with every additional bite and the buildup of the bite from the initial give of the outer skin to the creamy innards, this dish became more and more interesting.  I have to say we cleaned the plate pretty thoroughly.

 

Chocolate "Salami" roll with almonds, cookies, caramel sauce and chocolate sorbet (Salame di cioccolato servito con granella, caramello e il suo sorbetto), $10

Sora Lella really shines in the desserts department and if we hadn't been so stuffed, we probably would have chosen to sample every item on the menu (I think the gnocchi did us in!).  This chocolate "salami" roll was adorable - don't the slices actually look like salami?  They tasted like chocolately biscotti and the huge scoop of chocolate sorbet was heavenly.  If you want the purest essence of chocolate with just the right blend of bitterness and subtle sweetness, this is the dish for you.

 

Trio of gelatos (from top left, clockwise): Cinnamon with ginger honey, Rice gelato, Zabaione gelato with a drizzle of 25-year old basalmic vinegar

The homemade gelatos are equally if not more impressive.  The zabaione gelato with a drizzle of sweet, lucious 25-year old basalmic vinegar is TO DIE FOR.  The lovely shade of yellow you see in the photo is I'm guessing a result of the egg yolks traditionally used to whip up zabione.  This gelato was light as air and the basalmic was sweet and not the slightest bit sour - the perfect complement to add richness you wouldn't believe.  My friend C really liked the cinnamon gelato but we all agreed that the rice gelato was too grainy and chewy because of an abundance of rice.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Summary and More info:

Come to Sora Lella for a great night out in Italy without the price of a RT plane ticket or the horrid exchange rate between the USD and the Euro.  I'd love to see a dessert tasting menu implemented in the restaurant because I think frankly, the desserts are amazing and there aren't enough great dessert places in NY.  The homemade pastas are also particularly fantastic here and especially comforting in colder weather.

Tip: If you grab a takeout menu and bring it in for lunch, parties of 4 get a complimentary bottle of house white wine.

Make a Reservation

Address: 300 Spring Street

Website: http://www.soralellanyc.com

Sora Lella on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Sep262009

A truly inspired meal at Marea and dining with (ok, just next to) Meryl Streep 

This is the tale of a meal I had last week which completely bowled me over in terms of surprise, sheer decadence and far exceeded my expectations.  I was lured to Marea, Michael White's (Alto, Convivio) latest restaurant endeavor by reviews of the intriguing fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow and by rave reviews from a friend about the food at Convivio. I have no words to convey how glad I am that we stopped by Marea before a Fall for Dance performance - this is definitely on my list of top 3 dining experiences since I became obsessed with food.  There's usually a magic formula to a great meal - good company, an interesting/daring menu selection, ordering the right dishes, perfect execution and a relaxed ambiance + good service.  My meal at Marea had all these attributes in spades and I don't think we hit a bad note all evening.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

The Decor: (8.5/10)

Image Gallery

Image courtesy of Eater.com

Comfortable, expensive looking with a surprisingly casual ambiance for it's location on Central Park South.  The noise level was just about perfect with enough of a hum and buzz for there to be good energy throughout the room and seats quickly filled up.  There were tons of waitstaff in the dining room but they were incredibly gracious and attentive without being intrusive and anticipated our every need - truly great service is a great perk of dining here.

We were seated near the windows and at the beginning of our meal, we were treated to the sight of Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and costume designer extraordinaire Ann Roth pulling up chairs in the table right behind us.  Meryl is astonishingly elegant and beautiful in real life - I'm not really one to get excited about celebrity sightings but this one was definitely special.

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

The lovely Meryl Streep

___________________________________________________________________________________________

The Food: (9.5/10)

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

Amuse-bouche (salmon, some sort of melon consomme)

Fresh, fresh, fresh salmon and a beautifully fragrant melon consomme

 

 Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

Ricci (sea urchin, lardo, sea salt crostini), $14

The height of decadence - sea urchin is enough of a treat with its myriad of flavors and the spirit of the sea but the lardo slightly melted over the top enveloped the sea urchin and completely changed the texture of it.  The combo of the crisp, olive-oil soaked bread, the bright and creamy sea urchin and the sinful lardo basically exploded all over my tongue and lingered in the best way possible.  A must try.

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

 Uovo (slow poached egg, monkfish cheeks, mushroom ragu, garlic chips), $18

 A relatively uncomplicated dish but beautifully prepared - the crisp garlic chips and creaminess of the poached egg made this dish perfect for me.

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

 Fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow, $25

Incredibly bright with ripe tomato flavor, shining with the essence of bone marrow and accompanied by a healthy sprinkling of baby octopus throughout.  Michael White is renowned for his pastas and apparently, the restaurant has a whole separate section where all the pastas are made fresh daily. It's easy to see why he's considered such a master - the depth of flavor in his pasta dishes is truly remarkable and the flavor combinations are novel and extremely pleasing to the palate. An explanation on how this dish is painstakingly constructed can be found here

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

Garganelli with sausage ragu and parmigiano, $25

I've ordered this dish in too many restaurants to count and made a version of this dish at home and NEVER has it ever tasted this way.  This is comfort food at its best - rustic, hearty sausage ragu, just enough tomato flavor to coat and chewy, delicate garganelli with a healthy sprinkling of parmigiano. 

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting! by you.

Dark chocolate cake, nougat gelato, black cherry compote, $14

A grown-up versino of an ice cream sandwich - very strong almond/cherry flavors throughout the gelato and the chocolate cake was deliciously dark and had just the right hint of bitter.  The nougat gelato was really wonderfully done - perfect creamy texture but just a tad too sweet for me.

 

Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting!   Dining at Marea and a Meryl Streep spotting!

Olive focaccia,  Tray of chocolates (peanut butter, passion fruit-white chocolate, salted caramel and one that I don't remember)

I just had to show the olive focaccia because I think the olive peeking out is really cute.  By the time they brought out the chocolates, we were stuffed beyond belief and then as we turned to leave the restaurant, they stuffed a ribbon-tied crumb cake into our hands as a farewell gift from the chef.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Summary and More info:

All in all, a truly inspired meal and I'd jump at the opportunity to visit again soon.  We spent about $60 each on dinner which I think is completely reasonable for the quality of the food and pasta portions are definitely enough for 2 to share.  As a great wallet-friendlier alternative to dinner, Marea also has a fantastic lunch deal - $34 for 2 courses

 

Make a Reservation

Full Menu

 

More Reviews:

FoodistColony 

Marea on Urbanspoon

Saturday
Aug012009

Taiwan 2009: The full food tour

My 2 weeks in Taiwan went by in such a blur but now that I'm going through pictures, I find myself missing the food BADLY. Apparently my parents just bought a house in Taiwan so I'm planning on hitting up that side of the world every year if I can - one week in Taiwan and perhaps a week or so exploring the rest of Asia doesn't sound too bad to me :)

I know I wore you guys out in my last entry with pictures of the landscape so on to the food! This is going to be a sampling of all the tremendous, inexpensive food I had in Taiwan - capturing all of it would have required far more stamina than I had and carrying a DSLR around in 90+ degree heat with 100% humidity nearly did me in.

Taiwan Mosaic 6 by you.

From top-left clockwise: Golden fried mantou buns with condensed milk, the interior of this restaurant, big pork Bone hotpot, clam hotpot

So all the years of cutting chinese school really didn't serve me well with recognizing store names but thankfully I had an abundance of great hosts and they brought me to some amazing places. This is definitely one of my favorite dinners from the trip - this was a Macau restaurant specializing in hotpots. (Link to name and address)

  • The appetizer we got is one of my all-time favorite treats - typically steamed chinese mantou buns deep-fried to a golden perfection and then lightly dipped in condensed milk. The texture is just amazing - crispy on the outside and intensely soft inside.
  • The pork bone hot pot was savoury, complex and rich beyond belief. They first sauteed the bones a bit and then poured in broth and whatever ingredients you choose to add (I think we choose turnip, celery, udon and some other veggies). After the broth cooks for a while (which the waitstaff is very protective of - if you try to remove one of the bones, they rush over and grab the bone from your offending fingers with tongs and place it back in the pot), you can grab a bone and after suiting up with some plastic gloves and a metal straw, burrow out all the marrow inside the bones to your heart's content.
  • One thing that being in Taiwan has reminded me of is how deep my love of clams runs. My favorite is a littleneck clam soup with ginger, rice wine and a very light broth. This clam hotpot really hit the spot and they cranked the AC in the restaurant up to ungodly levels to really "encourage" the diners to enjoy the warmth of the food they were serving. It's amazing that in such a hot and humid country, in the middle of summer, all the hotpot restaurants are always completely packed. Go figure but it works.

 

Taiwan Mosaic 5 by you.

First row: The view overlooking the mountainside from our table, Drunken chicken steamed in wine, tofu in a light tangy lobster sauce,

Second row: Steamed prawns with mixed veggies, sausage platter (sweet sausage, fatty lamb sausage and blood sausage), steamed fish with soy sauce and scallion

Third row: Soy-sauce braised pork belly, the exterior of the restaurant, a menu

Another fantastic meal, this time in a really beautiful location. Back Garden is located on top of a mountain-side about an hour from Taipei (I'm bugging my mom to find out the address of it because Google has failed me in this quest) and each of the tables are situated next to an enormous window or you can choose to sit outside on a beautiful patio that wraps around the entire restaurant. There's usually live music and a hopping scene though the night we went, it was very rainy so we had to take our dining indoors. The restaurant honestly feels like more of a lounge with very comfortable sofas, low-set tables but a decidedly full menu. Surprisingly, the food is very inexpensive with vew few items going above $10. I'd highly recommend this place, especially for the view.

Taiwan Mosaic 4 by you.

Starting from left clockwise: An assortment of small plates which you usually get before every meal (tea eggs and tofu, seaweed, edamame with red chiles, some sort of fish, Chicken soup with clams and ginger, Scallion pancake ladies, scallion pancake griddle

 

  • Almost every meal in Taiwan starts out with a selection of small plates (kinda like banchan but you choose all the items you'd like). I'm a big fan of marinated seaweed and tea eggs and I hardly ever eat them when I'm back in the U.S. so I tried to stock up while I was in Taiwan.
  • The chicken and clam soup was extremely hearty and even tasted nutritious - in a very good way. We had this soup in a restaurant in a random night market.
  • There's a very famous scallion street cart in a region of Taiwan which I'm going to spell Lwodong. It's about an hour or so away from Taipei and I had family in the area so I managed to convince my cousins to take me to the scallion pancake ladies and boy, was it ever worth it. These are unlike any other scallion pancakes I've ever tasted - apparently, the scallions grown in this region are the best in the world so every cake was incredibly flavorful and dense and packed with scallion goodness. You can also get these cakes enrobed with a light coating of egg which makes a delicious breakfast.

 

Taiwan Mosaic 1 by you.

Starting from left clockwise: Beef noodle soup with ultra wide noodles, sauteed wild veggies with garlic, pigs ears, 8 treasure shaved ice

 

  • Beef noodle soup is definitely one of Taiwan's specialties and I tried to sample as many as I could but the quality level was pretty consistently high all across the board. Here's a recipe that I'm going to try to make as soon as I get back to NY. The mix of rice wine, ginger, star anise and soy sauce is just heavenly, especially when paired with ultra fresh handmade noodles.
  • These greens resemble the wild plants that grow everywhere and the chinese translation is something about cats. I don't really know what this plant is but it's delicious with its crispy stalks and chewy leaves. I really wish we had it here in the US.
  • Pig ears - yes, it sounds weird but it's strangely delectable. Lots of cartilage and chewy bits :)
  • 8 treasure shaved ice - Shaved ices are incredibly popular in Taiwan and this is a particularly extreme example of one. I think there was red bean, green been, egg, condensed milk, soy powder and all sorts of other nonsense on this one. I personally prefer an ultra-simple condensed milk + red bean combo on mine.

Taiwan Mosaic 2 by you.

Starting from left clockwise: Their famous xiaoolongbao (soup dumplings), wontons in red oil, the menu, egg fried rice with shrimp

Since I was in Taipei, I obviously had to check out the world-famous Din Tai Fung restaurant chain. Honestly, I wasn't too impressed. The soup dumplings were a major disappointment for me - the skins were ultra thin and the buns weren't exploding with juices which is the way things should be. I'm really looking forward to trying out the soup dumplings in Shanghai next year. The standout of the food we ordered was definitely the wontons in red oil - these had HUGE flavor, were delicate the way wontons are supposed to be and I think we probably gobbled up this plate in less than a minute. We ordered the egg fried rice just to see how they executed one of the simplest items on the menu and this was pretyt good but nothing incredibly.


Taiwan Mosaic 3 by you.

First row: The menu, corn chowder, the chef preparing our cod

Second row: Grilled cod with teriyaki sauce, the chef preparing our lobster, grilled lobster

Third row: Lamb chops, steamed banana dessert

Teppanyaki is really popular in Taiwan so I was dragged along to Steak House Hama.  Honestly, the environment is really nice and it's always fun to watch a chef at work but the food left a lot to be desired.  Beyond the fact that cheese draped on lobster is like a cardinal sin, I just didn't feel like there was anything really japanese or chinese about the seasonings and I think we could have had much better meals just walking in the street markets.

 

Whew, that was a ton of food and I have a bunch of japan entries to work on now so I hope this was a decent roundup of my eating adventures in Taiwan :)

Friday
Jul032009

Taiwan 2009: Gorgeous Scenery - Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake, Alishan Mountain

This entry will be food-lite so I can focus on some of the spectacular scenery in Taiwan.  I was really surprised to discover so much natural beauty in the country and we ended up doing a TON of trekking.

 

Taroko Gorge: one of Taiwan's prettiest national parks known for the abundant supply of marble and some jade.  The name "Taroko" means magnificent and beautiful. Full Wikipedia article here.

Taiwan 2009 - Taroko Gorge by you. 

Taiwan 2009 - Taroko Gorge by you.

 Taiwan 2009 - Taroko Gorge by you.

 

Fishermen hard at work on a random beach: after they hauled in the catch, we bought some ultra fresh fish.

Taiwan 2009 - Fishermen by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Fishermen by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Fishermen by you.

 

 Sun Moon Lake:  The color of the water was unreal and we ended up taking a boat around the lake

 Taiwan 2009 - Sun Moon Lake by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Mochi vendor by you.

A mochi vendor in one of the nearby towns

Taiwan 2009 - The road up Alishan Mountain by you.

A stack of bentos

Taiwan 2009 - The road up Alishan Mountain by you.

Pork chop, chicken leg over rice bento with lots of bamboo shoots and greens - yum!

Taiwan 2009 - Stylish little kid by you.

What a stylish little kid

 

Alishan Mountain: one of my favorite experiences of the trip though we were all freezing, soaked and had to wake up at 3AM to hike up to get a view of the sunrise.  This mountain area contained waterfalls, villages, high-altitude tea plantations and plenty of ancient trees.  Full Wikipedia article here.

 

 Taiwan 2009 - Alishan Mountain by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Golden pig tree @ Alishan Mountain by you.

 It's a golden pig!  See - I'd never let you guys down by not featuring at least a mention of a pig in every post :)

Taiwan 2009 - Alishan Mountain by you.

 

Taiwan 2009 - Alishan Mountain by you.

 

And then as we were driving down the mountain, we came upon this group of monkeys by the side of the road:

Taiwan 2009 - Monkeys by the side of the road! by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Monkeys by the side of the road! by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Monkeys by the side of the road! by you.

 

And we finally get to the sunrise:

Taiwan 2009 - Sunrise on Alishan Mountain by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Sunrise on Alishan Mountain by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Sunrise on Alishan Mountain by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Sunrise on Alishan Mountain by you.

Taiwan 2009 - Sunrise on Alishan Mountain by you.

 

Full photoset can be found on my flickr page.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin