Monday, June 1, 2009

Communing with nature at I Trulli

This past Saturday, as I was walking back from Lab Tastes, contemplating the beautiful weather, and thinking about dinner, a lightbulb went off in my head. It was such a beautiful evening, I figured I'd try to grab a last-minute reservation at one of my favorite al fresco dining places in the city. Lo and behold, a reservation was procured, and so I surprised AV with a trip to I Trulli.

I Trulli is an upscale Italian restaurant with an attached (nice) wine bar, but the best part of the restaurant is the back garden. I've been to one of their very cool garden parties before, but this time we were there for a normal al fresco dinner. We were seated all the way at the back of the garden, right where the canopy ends so we could see the sky. Our table abutted a fountain-y water feature. Soothing. Zen.

We were given a wine menu first, and as we both hemmed and hawed about whether to order drinks, changing our mind about half a dozen times, eventually food menus appeared on our table as well. Another couple was seated at the two-top right next to us shortly after we were, and AV and I being the mature adults we are, we mentally "raced" them service-wise through the meal (so far: they got food menus before we did, but we got bread first. Hah!). We finally decided to order drinks-- for AV, a Jack and coke; for me, upon the advice of the waiter, a glass of erbaluce, a flavorful and very delicious white wine I'd never had before-- and ordered our food at the same time. When I tried to order the beets/green apple/arugula/ricotta fritter salad without the ricotta fritters, our waiter graciously steered me away, informing me that without the fritters, the salad wasn't special. So I made another choice, and we got down to the bread basket in front of us.

This bread cylinder offered two types of thinly-sliced focaccia, a tomato-topped variety and one with a coarse sea-salted crust. Both were superlative examples of what focaccia should be: tender on the inside, oily on the bottom, robustly crusted on top. Additionally, instead of butter or olive oil, I Trulli provides a small dish of fresh ricotta as an accompaniment to the bread. This cheese was so good AV and I nearly licked the little dish clean, a fact one of the runners noticed as he offered another dish (N.B.: We accepted the offer, yet no second dish of ricotta ever appeared. Somehow, that's worse than never offering it in the first place. What a tease!).

That ricotta is like semi-liquid gold

We had ordered a dish of olives as a first course, but unfortunately the olives and our entrees arrived simultanously, which visibly distressed our waiter. Oh well. First the olives: there was a good mixture here, and all the olives were fresh and tasty. However, I managed to ruin a perfectly sound olive course by deciding it would be a good idea to eat one of the whole garlic cloves buried in the mixture. For some reason I thought it would be cooked. It wasn't. So I ended up eating an entire ENORMOUS raw garlic clove, which burned going down and made its angry presence known through my breath and pores for approximately 24 hours after the fact. I can't decide whether AV or I was more upset about that.

Monstrous garlic clove = deadly weapon

For his entree, AV had selected the sheep's milk ricotta ravioli in a butter and sage sauce. The tiny dices of carrot and potato on top were a curious (and it seemed relatively un-integrated) addition to the dish, but the pasta itself was tasty. It was cooked perfectly al dente, which AV approved of, although he noted that the pasta-to-filling ratio was a bit "interesting." It pained him to say it, but he ultimately pronounced the pasta not as good as Sfoglia's. Damn you, Sfoglia!

Handmade by "Dora," according to the menu

My own choice, since the beet salad was a non-starter, was the simple Insalata: "Mixed wild, baby, and local greens, radishes, ricotta salata, and sherry vinaigrette." Every element of this salad was delicious, especially the ricotta slata and even though I don't like radishes, the paper-thin slices of the vegetable were unobtrusive. Even the dressing, which I ordered on the side, was surprisingly zippy. It wasn't necessary the MOST interesting salad I've ever ordered, but it was definitely solid.

Looks lame but was tasty

We had other plans in mind for dessert (stay tuned...), so we skipped out after we finished the entree. I must say, I recognize that I'm turning into a true Manhattanite by how much I relish a meal outdoors in a peaceful space-- and I Trulli really fits the bill. The food was definitely on the better side of solid (especially the bread course), but despite a few service hiccups it's really the al fresco dining experience that will bring me back. Indoors, I Trulli is probably a three-Offset Spatula restaurant, but in my opinion the back garden earns an extra spat. Four OSes it is.

I Trulli
122 E. 27th Street, between Park and Lex

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