Unintentionally, my birthday weekend spent in NYC turned out to be a tour of Italian joints from Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria to Osteria Morini and finally to Sorella for a Sunday night dinner. The restaurant is located way down on the lower east side, very close to Chinatown and the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. The neighborhood, on Sunday at least, is mostly closed shops with iron grates over their facades and if you didn't see the big red sign outside Sorella, you'd almost think that it wasn't open.
Eater.com's hottest chef in NYC, has been on Iron Chef America and various other TV programs so the hype surrounding her restaurant was already running high. Like with Volt, I had some trepidation about how the food might be with a restaurant that had that much publicity. We could only get an early reservation so we arrived right as service was starting. We started with a drink at the bar first and the opening room to restaurant was inviting and warm with a long wood-paneled bar top and a large table for eight in the back of the front room. The servers were friendly and accommodating and seemed genuinely happy to be hanging out in the restaurant. I tried a Ginsalata which was a mix of gin, cucumber, basil, and lime. I generally like basil with mixed drinks and the combination of gin and lime is pretty classic. But, the cucumber slices were pickled and unfortunately the pickling flavor was pretty overbearing that it obscured everything else in the drink. When the last of our party arrived, we were led to the back dining area which was such a contrast to warmth of the wood upfront. It opened up to relatively small space (30 seats at the most) with light grey walls and a sunlight covering most of the ceiling.
Since we were so early, the kitchen was still prepping for dinner service and the aromas emitting from the kitchen were intoxicating and was a good omen for what was coming next. The concept of the restaurant seemed to be Italian tapas and encouraged sharing a variety of plates. So, maybe, family style but with smaller portions? My friends were kind enough to let me have a go at ordering and while I may have gone with the heavier dishes, it definitely had a variety of full, bold flavors. The one little quirky thing was when we went to order, and usually when its tapas-like, we like to keep a menu just in case we want more but the waitress insisted that we order all at once because that's what they would prefer. To me, that's probably breaking a few million rules of up-selling and customer service 101 but we agreed to it.
The next three dishes they brought out were butter poached langoustines, a pici (a bolognese dish with pepperoncinis), and a Brodo withe a Poached Egg and some Tortellini with a meat filling. The langoustines had a lobster glace sauce lathered over the tail meat and placed over a bed of purple barley and spring peas. While the langoustines were poached beautifully and evoked that rich lobster flavor you would associate with a dish like this, I found the most interesting part of the dish was the mix of purple pearl barley and peas. The wheat gave off a bit of a crunchiness to the dish and off set the overall soft textures of the rest of the plate. The flavors were sweet and earthy and I had a hard time not nibbling on it even after the shellfish was gone. It was especially refreshing after eating the claw meat which was a bit salty. The Pici was an especially creamy version of bolognese sauce with almost ramen like noodles, parmigiano reggiano, and pepperoncinis (at least I think that's what they were). The acidic sweetness of the pepperoncinis gave the creaminess of the bolognese another intricate level of flavor. I think I prefer the more traditional preparation of bolognese but this certainly was not an unwelcome deviation. I don't quite remember ordering the Brodo dish and I'm not really sure what it was since I can't find it on the menu. The poached egg broken into the broth gave it a richness and thickness that you usually don't find in a brodo. The tortellini (there wasn't a lot of them) were almost crispy like a wonton. I don't have much to say about the tortellini since I spent most of my time enjoying the brodo. It had fennel, the egg and obviously deeply imbued with beef or pork (I vote beef). The fennel gave it an intricacy of flavor that balanced any greasiness that the broth may have had.
After a pretty exceptional dinner, we strolled up to Marshall Stack to have a nightcap. We all agreed that the dinner was worthwhile and since one of our friends couldn't make it that we would make a return trip. The restaurant did indeed live up to the hype and if a return visit is in the works, I would definitely think of placing it on My Five. But, our time at the bar for our last drink made me realize the real value of the meal was the company. It was a couple of my dearest friends simply comfortable with each other, gathering to enjoy some great food but more importantly getting together to spend a casual Sunday night together for good conversation and good company.