The bro turned 28 last week, and with Mom in town, a birthday dinner was in order for Friday night. Mom had to work late, and the bro wanted Italian food, so we convened a "dinner" party at Insieme, on the northern edge of Times Square, slightly after 9PM.
I'd been to Insieme once for lunch a while ago, and I remember it being good, so we all had high hopes. Our crew was motley: AV and I had already eaten; the bro and LM were rarin' for dinner; Mom, who joined late, had already eaten a light meal earlier. Needless to say, we were bound to confuse the waitstaff.
And confuse we did. After awkwardly hovering at our table despite repeated hints (nay-- outright requests) for him to come back later, our server was gleeful to take our order. But let's just say what we ordered disappointed him. As we ordered light meals one after the other, he said "For entree?" disapprovingly after each request. Yes, for entree; no, I'm not ordering anything else. I'd understand this attitude if we were taking up a table in a busy restaurant, potentially sucking revenue they could otherwise get from a big-eatin' crew; however, we were one of TWO tables occupied in the entire restaurant. By the end of our meal, we were the only ones there. If we weren't there, the table clearly would have been empty.
Anyway, press on, press on. The meal started with bread (warm; AV approved) and a complimentary bite of bacalao fritters. The bro had already popped one in his mouth before I explained what bacalao was; he shrugged and noted that it tasted like a tater tot. At the end of the evening he pronounced the tiny fritters potentially the best part of the meal.
There was also an amuse-bouche: Italian egg-drop soup. I abstained, but the other party-goers tried it and universally panned the murky liquid as bland. "Tastes like dishwater," quipped my mom. But Mom, how do you really feel?
But on to the real food. The bro and Mom both ordered the insalata di misticanza (the bro as a starter, Mom as her "entree"-- yes, entree!). This was an interesting mixture and a large portion, and it met with approval from both consumers.
Salad gone; entrees up. The bro chose the spaghetti all'Amatriciana, with a hearty guanciale-based sauce. LM went for the papardelle with pork ragu. AV opted for the pear and pecorino salad, with frisee, escarole, and walnuts. General consensus on all three dishes was quite favorable, and once again, the portions were large, so extra points for that.
I was in the mood for cheese, so I ordered off the dessert menu (awk). My taleggio and pecorino were both what they advertised, and once again the portion size was overwhelming. The accompaniments to the cheese were clearly afterthoughts, sadly, with dry, flavorless bread and a few sorry pieces of dried fruit. But the cheese was good.
The four of us were all stuffed after this, but Mom pressed on with dessert. The chocolate budino, please, hold the espresso cream. Mom dug into the rich-looking pot and, after a few bites, noted that despite appearances the pudding wasn't really all that chocolatey. And though the candied almonds on top were tasty, they didn't really cohere with the dish. Overall, not the most successful dessert in family history.
Surprisingly, my favorite part of the meal came right before the check: a complimentary plate of mini chocolate-and-nut biscotti and a handful of cocoa-dusted almonds. The biscotti was by far and away the best biscotti I've ever had, and the nuts were no slouch either. Score!
On balance, Insieme was a mixed experience. The food ranged from mediocre (amuse bouche, dessert, cheese accompaniments) to truly strong (pastas, salads, biscotti). But gosh darn it, the restaurant was just a downright awkward place to be. Where WAS everybody? We were in the heart of Times Square and there was nobody else in the restaurant, which meant our voices competed only with the aggressive Muzak unfortunately blasting from the sound system. Unless it's part of some sort of romantic gesture, it's rarely a good thing to be in a restaurant all by oneself. Maybe Insieme is more of a lunch place? In any case, it earns three Offset Spatulas, since the food can be quite good. Just try it at lunch.
777 Seventh Avenue, at 51st Street