English Is Italian is the new restaurant from Todd English, the man behind Olives and Figs. The idea is an exciting one: you pay $40 and you’re brought lots and lots of food. First there’s antipasto—here’s Lauren (who’s in town visiting) expressing her excitement at all the food before her:
In that picture alone, you can see risotto balls, cod cakes, a meat platter with prosciutto and HEAD CHEESE (more on that in a moment), smoked salmon, an egg with asparagus, little toasts and three spreads: chicken liver, spring onion and pea spread.
We sampled it all and liked some things more than others. I liked the chicken liver spread better than, say, the smoked salmon. Lauren liked the risotto ball better than the egg. As for the HEAD CHEESE, I had no idea what I was eating—I saw this gray matter with seeds on top of it. I scooped some up and it was fatty and thin and weird. I asked the waiter what it was: “Testa”(???) he said (the three ???s indicate I don’t remember what word he said, I’m sure you’ll know). “What’s that?” I asked and he explained that it’s head cheese.
“The skull of a pig is placed in a pot of boiling water, while it still has flesh on it…everything that floats to the top is skimmed off, pressed, and cheese is made from it.”
Now I’m not terribly grossed out by anything, but it did surprise me that at a place like this—where the clientele seemed to be Park Avenue conservative, they’d just plop head cheese on a platter and expect to get away with that explanation. My mom, for example, if she’d been there would have fallen out of her chair and had a seizure. Luckily, I took the news with great maturity and even ate a little more. The thing is: it didn’t taste particularly good.
The next course was a pasta course:
There’s artichoke asparagus ravioli, linguini bolognese, macaroni and cheese, and asparagus risotto. Of these, the last was the worst: the rice wasn’t cooked properly. Otherwise, the macaroni and cheese was the best: the breadcrumbs on top gave it a great crunch.
But none of these were particularly great. At this point in the evening I said: “The food’s not particularly great.”
“But there’s lots of it,” countered Lauren.
Finally, there was our entree course. Here’s white fish and brisket:
There was also a chicken dish that Lauren fell in love with. “This chicken is amazing,” she said. The chicken practically fell off the bone.
Ultimately, though, the meal was a bit disappointing. It’s a great concept—there’s lots and lots of food. But I’d rather have two amazing dishes at Babbo than 18 better-than-average ones here. And if I’m lying you can take my head, boil it and skim the fat for your supper…