Monday, May 18, 2009

Damn you, Sfoglia

Occasionally, I come across a restaurant that is too big for its britches. You know the kind-- a place that's gotten great buzz, has a constant stream of eager patrons waiting at the door, and has the extensive attitude, arcane reservation policies, and "holier than thou" touches to match. Well, I'm sad to report that AV and I just stumbled upon another one of these delightful gems: enter Sfoglia.

We've both been wanting to try Sfoglia for a very, very long time. But call their phone number and you're politely informed that they're currently "booking six weeks out" but might be able to accommodate you in the intervening weeks at the much sought-after dining times of 5:30, 9:30, or 10:30. Yippee. So to surprise AV, I dutifully booked a Sunday evening dinner many, many weeks in advance, and this past Sunday was the lucky night.

We entered the rustically charming storefront at the corner of 92nd and Lex to find nobody. The hostess stand was empty; we were standing in a long hallway with nobody else in it. Fortunately, the hostess emerged a few moments later to take my name... and then disappeared again. In the meantime, as we waited, some lady carrying a bag of takeout food (let's call her Rude Woman) bustled through the doors and pushed past me to be front-and-center at the hostess stand. When the hostess emerged once again, Rude Woman proceeded to request a reservation for a few weeks later-- and the hostess, ignoring AV and me, had a lengthy conversation with her, booking the reservation and discussing important details such as RW's desire to have candles in her dessert since it would be her birthday. Fantastic. Once RW had left, the hostess turned to me and delivered the news that she would seat us in a few minutes.

AV and I sat on a tiny couch at the end of the hallway. We discussing how we assumed an earlier reservation was likely taking longer than anticipated at the table we'd booked and how we're sympathetic that it's difficult for restaurants to control such things. We discussed how it might have behooved the hostess to tell us "I'll seat you shortly" before dealing with RW. We talked about other things too (we were there for a solid chunk of time). But then-- lo!-- we were summoned.

We passed through the small dining room that I had assumed was the entire extent of the restaurant and emerged into a lovely, dark, intimate back room. Well, intimate except for the 10 or so EMPTY tables there, including several two-tops, which the hostess gaily offered us. Well, we thought, it certainly IS lucky that this entire room cleared out as we waited for those 10 minutes or so... it would be a shame if we were sitting out in the vestibule while our table sat empty. (Sarcasm sarcasm sarcasm.) Slightly incredulous, we chose a nice table in the back near the wine storage and settled in for what promised to be a delightful meal.

Annnnd off we went. After the hostess delivered our menus, our waiter, let's call him Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters, sidled up to the table to take our drink orders. In the mood for a glass of wine and relatively unfamiliar with Italian varietals, I asked him what the Trebbiano was like. His response: "It's white." That sounds good, I'll have that-- and while you're at it, what's the soup du jour? Once it was established that, yes, I could read English and had deciphered that since the Trebbiano was under the "white" section of the wine list I understood that it was, indeed, "white," he offered a lame description and I ordered it anyway. When AV asked about their funky looking house sodas, he told us "We're out of them." But FORTUNATELY they had regular soda, so AV settled for a ginger ale. Phew.

Now for the menu. It's short, and even shorter on vegetarian options (note to all veggies out there: our kind is not really welcome at Sfoglia. Read on for what I ended up with). Most of the pastas are available in a small or large portion, which is nice. When Dave Grohl returned, we placed our order-- for me, an insalata mista; for AV, the papardelle bolognese-- and he told us that there was one pre-order dessert that night, some sort of rhubarb/cherry crostada. AV told him that we'd probably make our decision come dessert time, and DG retorted with, "Unfortunately, you have to order it now. ESPECIALLY with just one course." [How DARE we!] Oh we have to, eh? Thanks Dave-- I think we're going to be okay without your crostada. Although it sounds quite precious.

Our drinks finally arrived. AV's ginger ale was one of those tiny little 10-ounce soda bottles that you find in the Four Seasons mini bar, where it's about $1 per bubble. Sweet. My wine bottle came in a tiny little cylindrical water cup. Really. No wine glass here. Come ON, people, you're a respectable Italian restaurant and you're serving wine in water glass? (N.B., I know some places do this as an informal touch, but glassware is very important to me and this affectation infuriates me.) I took this opportunity to go to the bathroom, and as I passed the bar on the way I noticed they actually did have wine glasses. So on my way back to my table, I asked the bartender for a wine glass. He provided it with a smile. Back at the table, I performed my own wine service and was satisfied.

Their wine glass on right; my wine glass on left

Eventually, Sfoglia's coveted bread arrived on our table (after, it should be noted, the other table in our room, seated well after we were but clearly friends of the hostess, has received THEIR bread). It was everything the restaurant is famous for: warm sourdough, an enviable crackly crust, and good olive oil. However, Sfoglia also committed the cardinal sin of the bread course: three slices for two people. REALLY, people??? (We split the third slice.)

Highlight of the meal

Our entrees arrived shortly after the bread. The hostess asked if AV wanted parmesan with is pappardelle, and he assented. She disappeared, went to talk to her friends at the other table for a good couple of minutes as AV's pasta cooled on the table, and then finally returned with the parm. While she was gone, AV and I discussed how we had seen dishes of olives on other tables but hadn't received any; was it a separate side order? I hadn't remembered seeing it on the menu. But after viewing my salad, I realized I was going to need at least a little something more, so we decided to throw caution to the wind and ask for them anyway. When we asked the hostess upon her return, she said, "Oh, I hadn't noticed you didn't have any!" and then returned with a dish (yes, they were complimentary). Ravenously hungry, I started pounding olives at a furious pace... and about halfway through the dish realized they were coated in bits of prosciutto. Oops.


Now down to the food. AV reports that his papardelle bolognese was incredibly delicious. The kitchen is clearly talented; I'll give them that. But based on the size of the dish, I was surprised that it seemed Dave Grohl had defaulted to placing an order for an appetizer portion of the pasta, since AV hadn't specified and DG hadn't asked during the ordering process. That is, until I got the check, and- wait- nope, it was the full portion, for $30. I can't IMAGINE what the appetizer portion looks like.

Note: Objects in picture appear larger than they are

My own selection, pretty much the only thing I could eat on the menu, was just a dish of leaves. They were delicious leaves, I guess, but there were about a dozen pieces of lettuce in vinagrette on the plate, for $7. If I hadn't had the dish of prosciutto'd olives, I would have left the restaurant, walked across the street, and ordered takeout dumplings to create a real meal. As it was, I pounded half a pint of Ben & Jerry's once AV and I returned to his apartment.

One dish of leaves does not a meal make

When we were finished with our food, Dave Grohl made a final surprise guest appearance at our table, informing us, "Sorry, I forgot about you guys back here" before asking us how the food was. Well, it's gone, so regardless there's not too much you can do about it, Dave, old pal. We declined the offer of non-crostada desserts, paid the inflated check, and left.

God damn it, Sfoglia. We wanted to like you so much. Other people like you. Your food is good. But I left there so covered in attitude that I felt dirty. Fine, maybe it was Sunday night and we caught you on a bad day. But really, you weren't even trying. If the bread and pasta hadn't been so good, you'd be slapped with the coveted zero spatula designation. As it is, you "earn" a meager one Offset Spatula. Readers: there are so many lovely, delicious restaurants in New York City where people care about the food, it's reasonably priced, and when you arrive you are welcomed as an old friend (e.g., Aroma, Brown Cafe). Sfoglia is not one of them. Visit those that truly appreciate your patronage, not Sfoglia. This place just doesn't seem to care.

1402 Lexington Avenue

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