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.

11 comments

  1. I’m glad you mentioned that it wasn’t rubbery, I’m very very glad for you, but that picture of octopus is actually freaking me out a little bit. I would eat it, but it’s freaking me out.

  2. Hee! As someone who (a) just found your blog and has been obsessively reading through archives, (b) gets on and off the 4th St side (actually 3rd St) of the W 4th St station daily, and (c) lives directly above Lupa, I love every word of this post. Lupa really is a wonderful restaurant, and the antipasti are often my favorite parts of the meal.

    Next time you’re in the area and feeling indulgent, I highly recommend stopping at Joe’s Dairy, on Sullivan just south of Houston, and picking up a ball of smoked mozzarella. It is out of this world!

  3. Man, that blog makes all of us wish we were in New York! Have any fave dives here on the West Coast that you want to recommend to the fans on Tyler’s Ride?

    Check out Tyler cooking chicken in Episode 5.

  4. Lupa has always been our favorite restaurant in lower Manhattan. We always eat at the bar, share the frutti de mare, an escarole salad and a pasta dish with a great bottle of Italian wine.

    Your blog is great! Nice local flavor.

    Please check out my Lupa brussel sprouts in my post yesterday on Stacey Snacks.

    Regards,

    Stacey

  5. I had an amazing lunch at Lupa last fall, and I still think about it to this day! We had a three-hour lunch and it was very pleasant and of course, totally delicious. Most memorable was an antipasto special that day, a crostino with bone marrow, roasted/grilled apple, and a parsley salad. Like you said, it was so incredibly well balanced between salty and sweet, acid and fat, crunchy and soft – it was absolutely out of this world.

    And I just scored a rez at Babbo next month! So pumped!!

  6. My boyfriend used to be a host at Lupa (can you imagine wrangling all those reservations?!)

    and took me there for my birthday last year. Two words: PORK SHOULDER. It was one of the best meals of my life.

  7. Loved the post. I can certainly relate to the food dilemma around the West 4th stop. Luckily it is hard to go wrong.

    I also want to say thank you for inspiring a wonderful Sunday lunch. My boyfriend just moved a block away from Lupa and we finally had a chance to stop by this weekend. First, the suggestion of going at lunch is brilliant – no wait. Second, we followed your recommendation to get the Treviso and it was wonderful. If you make a return visit I would recommend the zucchini filled pasta (I forget the Italian name, but the pasta was ravioli-esque) – an extremely unique and delicious dish. As soon as I finished I was ready to order another.

    Also, feel free to keep posting about restaurants because I certainly enjoy the writing and the recommendations!

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