Chef Mario Batali and his partner Joe Bastianich oversee a vast, worldwide empire of Italian eateries these days. In New York City alone they mangage six different restaurants, all of which pack in the faithful night after night, PLUS another at-least six within the sprawling Italian-food theme park that is Eataly. But back in 1999, when the rustic, reasonably-priced osteria Lupa first opened on Thompson Street, Batali and Bastianich were still new to the juggling game, with their flagship Babbo the only other place competing for their attention. Obviously they were up to the task, as Lupa, and the rest of the duo’s NYC Italian restaurants (Otto, Casa Mono, Esca, and Del Posto rounding out the six-pack of stand-alones) not only continue to thrive, covers-per-night-wise, but don’t seem to do much coasting back in their respective kitchens, either.
Which is all to say how much I enjoyed my summer supper at Batali’s Lupa last Friday evening, and appreciated the care and attention that the kitchen still puts into their assignments, even when making dishes for the probably ten-thousandth time. Sitting comfortably at the bar, chatting with the amiable staff, the place not over-packed (which happens on summer weekends in certain, Hamptons-friendly precincts), the music lively, the check un-painful… it just gave me such a deep feeling of contentment and ease to be there, eating that food, right at that moment. This is why I love this city, I thought to myself. Because our pop-in neighborhood-ish places are world-famous, listed in tourist guides in a hundred languages, and they still feel like home.
My dinner on this night was simple and delicious. First came the Spinach, Snap Pea and Artichoke Salad, the greens crunchy, bright and alive; the chewy fried artichokes, complete with plenty of salty oil, arriving warm and poured over the greens right there at the table. Lovely. And since you should always order at least one pasta when dining with Batali, my main was a bowl of perfectly pillowy Ricotto Gnocchi, the sausage and fennel sauce more creamy, less chunky than expected, but plenty redolent with the flavors of each eagerly anticipated ingredient. And that’s it! Fot a little while there, as I walked through the Greenwich Village summer’s night, I maybe regretted skipping dessert–the gelato’s a strong move at any Batali establishment–but no: I had had enough, I was completely satisfied with my meal, my choice of neighborhood for a post-prandial walk, my beautiful city.
Lupa is located on Thompson Street just north of Houston in Greenwich Village, and is open every day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 midnight. More info and the complete Lupa menu can be found on their website.