A big hunk of pork chop, cleanly plated on a bed of intense mushrooms and accented with tart berries. The tender meat was grilled, bringing out soft notes of juniper and chili. Underneath was a serving of marinated mushrooms (a mixture of truffle-y hen of the wood and creamy king trumpet). While simple and savory, the combination of flavors, overwhelmed by the punchy mushrooms, seemed illogical. This unimaginative dish struck me as better for a rustic Italian kitchen than a New York restaurant.
Ricotta gnocchi with sausage and fennel $16
A small dish of moist morsels of chunky ricotta gnocchi. Light and springy yet full of flavor, these delicate balls of home made pasta were thoroughly satisfying. Covered with a salty and sweet rich tomato sauce. However, despite the menu’s promise, the dish had neither sausage nor fennel, both in form and flavor (at least, as far as we could discern). While disappointed by the absence of these ingredients, we found the pasta to be quite tasty.
Lupa tartufo $8
On a wet Friday evening, we were looking for a hit of something suitably sweet and this chocolate delight, a symphony of rich chocolate and luxurious hazelnut, didn’t disappoint. With childlike delight, we cracked open the crunchy milk chocolate shell, revealing fresh hazelnut ice cream. Served on a bed of thick, sweet dark chocolate sauce and garnished with crumbled hazelnut. With pleasure, we ate it all up before the ice cream had melted.
Olive oil torta and rhubarb $9
Two slices of moist, mildly flavored olive oil cake on a bed of rhubarb and cream. The dense and somewhat doughy cake was missing the smooth olive oil finish. While the thick crème fraiche added savory balance, the tiny chunks of blanched rhubarb didn’t have the tart, flavorful punch we’d hoped for.
Of all the properties in the Mario Batali empire, Lupa is the most toned down. Its rustic tone is noticeable in both the restaurant’s aesthetic and its cuisine. There are long communal tables, tiled floors and a big wooden bar for those who want to eat alone. The food is equally simple; classic items plated on clean white dishes with little embellishment. However, almost 13 years after opening (it debuted in 1999), it seems to be flagging. Everything seemed unimaginative and unremarkable. We missed interesting ingredients and dynamic flavor combinations. Indeed, in the case of the gnocchi, we were surprised that some components appeared to be omitted entirely.
It’s clear that the specialty here is pasta: an assortment of home made options in tasty sauces. In the excessively chic area of SoHo and Greenwich Village, Lupa’s a good option to satisfy your craving for simple food. However, I would say there are better ways to experience rustic Italian fare.
170 Thompson St.