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)
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.
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.
Address: 300 Spring Street