Many moons ago, AV and I went for a post-Valentine's-Day dinner nightcap at Cavatappo wine bar on the UES. I had a glass of lambrusco bianco, a wine I'd never seen before (lambrusco is a sparkling red wine, and I'd never encountered a white version). It was so delicious, I've been craving it ever since and haven't been able to find it anywhere else. So this Saturday night, we headed to Cavatappo Grill, the restaurant version of the wine bar, to slay (guzzle) my white whale.
The restaurant is small but cute, decorated with a pervasive wine-cork motif. We sat at a small table by the window and pored over the paper-placemat menus. I already knew our wine order, so we asked for a bottle of lambrusco bianco straightaway. The waiter brought the wine quickly; it was, as I had remembered, powerfully delicious: crisp, not very sweet but not bone-dry either, with tiny effervescent bubbles that make it go down like San Pellegrino. Exquisite-- and my new official Favorite Wine. Along with the wine, our waiter brought over a basket of bread and a small dish of olive oil and vinegar. The bread was serviceable, a little hard on the outside (indicating it had been sliced many hours earlier and left in the open air) but good for sopping up the oil. Unfortunately, try as we might (and we did), the balsamic vinegar at the bottom of the olive oil dish was pretty much inaccessible.
When we were about half a glass in, we placed our order. There was so much on the menu we both wanted, it was difficult to make a choice. But we finally settled, and the food arrived after a reasonable wait.
AV had gone with a starter (not to be confused with an "appetizer," a separate section on the menu) and a side dish. He reported that the fried calamari was delicious, full of lightly fried rings and none of the castoff bits that tend to populate lesser orders of the app. To balance out the meal, he ordered a side of sauteed broccoli rabe. I tried a few bites and it was really good-- not too oily, fresh and green. Overall, two winners.
My selection was a salad of cremini mushrooms, pears, walnuts, fontina cheese, and mixed greens with white truffle oil. It was very, very good. The mixture of ingredients was creative, and the serving size was very generous-- there were even a few cherry tomatoes thrown in for good measure. Especially with the addition of the white truffle oil, this salad was eminantly craveable, something I won't forget for a long time... which presents me with a conundrum: when I return to Cavatappo, do I get this delicious salad again? Or do I order one of the other several items on the menu that I wanted to try? I do not know, dear readers. I do not know.
Food (and much of the wine) dispatched, we decided to throw caution to the wind and order dessert. We shared the tiramisu, which hit the spot-- creamy and spongy with a strong espresso syrup on the bottom. Definitely not the best tiramisu I've ever had, but at that moment it was perfect.
By the time we were done, the place had filled up with happy, chatty patrons, and we paid the reasonable bill and stumbled out into the night. The service at Cavatappo is what one might call "brusque"; the waiters are friendly enough but they're clearly there to get the food to your table in the most efficient way possible. The atmosphere is pleasant, and the prices are reasonable. But if you're there for the food and the wine-- and we most certainly were-- Cavatappo is the perfect neighborhood restaurant. You can get a table on a weekend night with only a few hours' notice, and you can have a very enjoyable meal there and leave happy. So even though it's not the pinnacle of fine dining, Cavatappo Grill deserves four Offset Spatulas and several more visits from this hungry blogger.
1712 First Avenue, between 88th and 89th