It was a blazing hot Saturday evening in New York City, and AV and I found ourselves hungry with no place to go. Naturally, unlike everyone else in the city (sarcasm) we were looking for a restaurant with outdoor seating. A few web searches later, we ended up at Sotto Cinque, an off-the-radar Italian joint on the Upper East Side.
We sat at a table near right at the open front wall of the restaurant, thereby succeeding in our "al fresco" dining quest. AV sat with a view of the Sox/Yankees game playing at the bar; I sat with a view of the street. Everybody wins.
We started with the bread basket, which came with both butter and garlic-chile olive oil. The bread was standard semolina Italian bread, studded with sesame seeds on the crust. It was very standard, extra points for the sesame seeds but an equivalent deduction for the, well, standardness. Sotto Cinque also committed the cardinal sin of restaurants everywhere: giving a table for two three slices of bread. Why make it so one person is forced to lose?
For an appetizer, we decided to share a side of warm olives (N.B.: this side appeared on only one of our menus, indicating that the other menu was not up-to-date. We pointed this out to the waiter, so ostensibly it will be fixed, but just keep that in mind if you dine at SC). This was a very interesting dish. The olives were indeed warm-- hot, even-- and were presented in a pool of garlicky olive oil studded with garlic slivers. I really liked the green olives here: creamy and satisfying, they melted in your mouth in a beguiling fashion. The black olives would have been the same if they had been higher quality, but unfortunately, they were the plain somewhat icky black olive (the kind that comes sliced in cans in the grocery store). Nontheless, we finished the appetizer throughout the course of the meal. It was a very....interesting dish.
For an entree, AV had chosen the linguine alla pescatore, which came with shrimp, clams, and calamari in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, white wine, and tomato. AV gave this dish the thumbs-up, which leads to my second SC dining tip: pasta really seems to be their specialty, so if you come here, don't stray from the pasta section.
But alas, I strayed. I chose the chopped salad, dressing on the side. The salad had spinach and romaine, red kidney beans (which were, bizarrely, a little too "al dente," if you catch my drift), celery, and capers. The capers were the best part, because I love capers. There was too much celery, so the celery flavor overwhelmed the salad. The dressing was a rather tasty vinaigrette, but nothing could really salvage this salad. It was sort of sad-looking and sort of sad-tasting.
We planned to go on an ice-cream-finding mission after dinner, so we skipped dessert and skipped out. SC's saving grace is that it's exceedingly affordable-- all the dishes were reasonably priced. And AV really enjoyed his selection, which makes me lean towards three Offset Spatulas. But my own meal was sort of icky, and as a result SC fails my crucial two-versus-three-OS test: Would I return? Sadly, I don't think I would. Two it is.
322 E. 86th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues