Fancy dinners are funny things: you think you have to plan for them, make reservations, get dressed up, when in fact the idea of a “fancy dinner” is just a construct; the truth is, a talented chef with a nice restaurant wants nothing more than for you to pop in at the spur of the moment and that’s precisely what Craig and I did last night after seeing a fascinating new musical called Passing Strange at the Belasco. I remembered that Marco Canora, the chef at Hearth whom I met at the Taste of New York event earlier this year, opened a new place across from Mamma Mia called Insieme and after the show I said: “Heck, it’s Valentine’s Day, let’s have a nice dinner.”
So we popped into Insieme and Craig was intimidated at first because people were dressy in suits and such and we were wearing jeans and he was unshaven, but we quickly got over that, especially later when Marco came out to say hi. He’s a wonderful guy–not pretentious, but super knowledgeable and his food reflects that. We loved the little bites they sent out first–a radish with anchovy-flavored olive oil, baccala on a potato–but the best, by far, was the pasta course. Craig, who’s not keen on hyperbole, declared this dish one of the best things he’s ever eaten in his life:
The picture doesn’t do it justice, but that’s a pear risotto with blue cheese and hazelnuts. Marco told us it had pear cider in it, as well as actual pears, but what made it great, according to Craig, was the contrast of the sweet pear and the savory blue cheese. I took a bite and I had to concur, it was fantastic, though I was pretty in love with my chestnut fettuchini with venison ragu and pomegranate.
So, in conclusion, if you have some spare change in your pocket and you’re near a nice restaurant but you’re scared to go because you’re not dressy enough or you think you need to make a reservation, just pop in. The food business is a rough business, and chefs–like all artists–need your patronage. Plus, if it’s Valentine’s Day, you’re supposed to go to a nice meal anyway. I’m glad we had ours at Insieme.