Lunch at Lupa

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The West 4th stop of the D train has two exits: one on Waverly Street and one on the actual West 4th, in front of the IFC movie theater. These two exits, for me, mark two very different moods, two very different frames of mind. To exit on Waverly is an act of self-denial, a focused foray into the world of bagels and coffee–a quick one up at Murray’s on 13th and then back down to Joe on Waverly where I will sit and work for hours. To exit on West 4th, on the other hand, is to embrace a world of gastronomical wonders, to ignore all the mandates of “should” and “right now” and to relax into a land of creature comforts, of lobster rolls and gourmet cheeses, of yolky gelato and crispy paninis.

It’s my favorite food region of New York. There, in a few block radius, is Pearl Oyster Bar, Po, Murray’s Cheese, Grom, then, down Carmine, Market Table, Blue Ribbon, Blue Ribbon Bakery, ‘ino, then go west and you have Snack Taverna, The Little Owl, keep going and you have August and The Spotted Pig. These are among my favorite restaurants in the world.

Last week I had a choice: exit on Waverly and work on several writing projects or exit on West 4th and celebrate all the goodness that life has to offer. Which would you choose? I chose the road less traveled and that has made all the difference… in my waistline.

This time, I headed further east in search of Tomoe Sushi where I haven’t been for a while. I arrived there (after a little confusion between MacDougal and Sullivan, not realizing that the restaurant is on Thompson) and once there I stepped inside only to be told: “Not open. We open at 1.”

It was 12. That was an hour away. Was I being punished for my freewheeling lifestyle? Or was it fate trying to tell me something, trying to nudge me next door?

Next door, of course, is Lupa. Lupa is one of Mario Batali’s earliest restaurants and a West Village treasure; a place that commands huge crowds on a typical night and a place I usually avoid because of those huge crowds. Here, at this moment, it was empty. And open.

“Can I sit at the bar?” I asked the nice hostesss.

“Sure,” she said and stepped aside. I sat on a corner seat, the female bartender laid a napkin in front of me, along with some silverware, poured me some water and handed me a menu.

There on the menu I had many choices. There were pastas, there were entrees. And then there were intriguing antipasti. Various vegetables, meats, seafood dishes. I asked the female bartender if I could make a lunch of two antipasti.

“I think three would be better for lunch,” she offered.

So I chose three: Octopus with Ceci & Sorrel, Summer Squash alla Romana, and Treviso with Vin Cotto. (You can see all three in the picture at the top.)

The octopus (all the way on the left) was wonderfully textured; smooth and not at all rubbery. The ceci (or chickpea) sauce that clinged to it was grainy and a bit pasty, but made for a striking–if not all together pleasant–combination. The summer squash, in the middle, was flavorful and vibrant with fresh herbs (mostly mint) and some sharp bits of onion.

The star of the show was the Treviso. Treviso is a type of radicchio; that bitter red lettuce you see broken up and wilted in supermarket salads. Here it was both aggressive and subdued; the aggressive bits were uncooked and still bitter, the subdued bits were charred and slightly sweet. But the brilliance of this dish came in the form crisp croutons and the puckery vin cotto (cooked wine). Somehow, it all came together to create something so sublime I wanted to cry a little. And laugh a little. I want to make this at home every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s so good. And yet I don’t think it could ever taste as good as this, the elements were so perfectly in balance, the ingredients so perfectly sourced.

Soon I was back on the street heading up to Waverly, but I’d consumed one of the best bites I’d had in recent memory. And for that I have the West 4th Street exit to thank; I recommend finding your own personal West 4th Street wherever you live and shirking your own personal Waverly whenever possible.

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