Monday, January 31, 2011

Spasso: Bring your winter coat. And hat. And gloves.

Last weekend, with AC in town, she and I and KS and SL met up for a girls' dinner at Spasso in the West Village. They were graciously accommodating to our lateness and the fact that our party trickled in, having no problem with us being seated and ordering before our full party had arrived. It's a sad state of the restaurant industry that that kind of simple unfussiness is truly refreshing.

In any case, we were seated at a window table near an exterior door, and even though the door remained closed throughout the night, I'd estimate that the temperature at this particular table was approximately 58 degrees. Granted, it was 20 degrees outside, but the combination of the glass walls and the air seeping around the door meant that the four of us remained with coats and scarves, and in some cases hats, on for the entire evening. It's not necessarily Spasso's fault that it was so miserably cold in there, but it truly did make the experience somewhat unpleasant.

On to the food. Spasso's menu is typical of the times-- divided up into a half-dozen or more little sections, it's designed to encourage over-ordering and food sharing. Indeed, the first thing the waiter does when he introduces himself and beings to describe the menu is direct you to the housemade stracciatella, which is ideal "for the table." Now, I may be unusually curmudgeonly, but I really hate both a) having to endure an "explanation" of the menu while we're a;; clearly very, very capable of reading and deciphering the menu in front of us, and b) being upsold before we've even been at the table for five minutes. I bet you the stracciatella upsell is incredibly effective, and while I have no doubt it's delicious, it's also listed on the menu and we can order it if we want.

Anyway, rant over. How was the food? There was the traditional rustic bread in a paper bag accompanied by a pool of olive oil to start.

Par for the course

And then AC and KS shared two of the smaller plates, the puntarelle salad and the polenta. The puntarelle, which the waiter described as warm, was actually a cold vegetable salad in bagna cauda with a few anchovies lying on top (in fairness, after the plate arrived the waiter returned to apologize for misinforming us and offered to replace the dish if desired). According to KS, it was tasty but incredibly small.

Shimmery fish

AC was disappointed with the polenta. Apparently she was expecting firm polenta cakes (the rest of us were expecting the softer preparation that arrived), so she wasn't a huge fan. But KS and SL enjoyed it the rich, cheesy, and creamy dish.

So rich

SL ordered the fluke, another small but beautifully prepared dish. She devoured the fish and accompanying vegetables enthusiastically.

Fish obscured

Desserts, in contrast, were hearty portions. Their version of an apple tart involved flaky crust and layered apples, all set in a pool of caramel and topped with a dollop of cream.

American as apple... tart?

When the chocolate-caramel tart arrived, I had a moment of deja vu. Hadn't I seen that before? Indeed, I had, in the online pages of Saveur-- it was a dessert I had considered making for my family's Thanksgiving. Seriously, check out the link and then compare to the photo below-- there is absolutely no question that it's the same dessert. And while it was delicious, it struck me as a home cook's interpretation of a fancy restaurant dessert. The crust was just a little too thick and ungainly, the caramel just a little to thin and oozy...nonetheless, I'm splitting hairs. You like caramel and chocolate? You'll like this.

Seriously, exactly the same

So now for the awarding of spatulas. I hesitate at this point. Spasso is new, and any new restaurant deserves a few months to truly get things down pat. The food was clearly high quality and well-prepared, but the portions are tiny for the dear prices charged. Their dessert program needs to step up its game. It was freakin' freezing in the dining room. But the service, while occasionally uninformed, is friendly and-- perhaps more importantly-- laid back. For all its classic West Village pretensions, once you get inside, Spasso has the feel of a neighborhood joint. And I think the city needs more of those.

551 Hudson Street, at Perry Street

No comments: