After collecting some suggestions, I presented a list of Restaurant Week finalists to my friends that included Butter, Mesa Grill, maze by Gordon Ramsay, le Cirque, Patroon, One if by Land, Po, I Trulli, and the Russian Tea Room. As you can tell, I have a thing for celebrity chefs and bad television.
I had I Trulli on the list because I thought I remembered the name from a frantic planning-for-Valentine’s Day research spree several years ago, when I was looking for the “most romantic” Italian restaurants in New York (that year we ended up going to the Central Park South standby San Domenico, now relocated and renamed). We ended up choosing I Trulli largely because it was one of few places still taking reservations for the day and time we wanted (though several on that list are extending their RW specials through the end of February).
So last Thursday, Caitlin, Ryne, Rob, and I met at I Trulli. We were seated promptly, and spent some time admiring the decor. The restaurant had the dim, warm lighting typical of Italian restaurants, the shadows creating a sense of privacy and intimacy for each table. We enjoyed a crackling fire, and the burning logs (cedar, I think) seemed to perfume the dining room. The fireplace itself was interestingly designed; it was open on two sides, so from one dining room you could peer through the flames to the other part of the restaurant. The set-up reminded me a bit of the set-up of the Robie House, where an opening cut above the fireplace’s mantle connected two sides of the house, and somehow made the space seem bigger, more open, and more inviting.
Somewhat curiously, our ordering preferences converged. Three of us chose the oven roasted mussels gratinato, three of us chose the lamb, and three of us chose the zeppole (though none of us had the same combination of dishes).
I ordered the mussels, though normally I stray away from mussels that are not freshly steamed/cooked in some way (and even when they are steamed open, I’ve seen unscrupulous chefs simply pry apart the ones that didn’t open spontaneously; finger wag at Potenza in DC!). These mussels were split in half, with one half of the shell removed, and the mussel packed with a mound of garlicky bread crumbs, herbs, and parmesan. Next to the mussels was something I initially mistook for a tamale–it turned out to be a lemon that had been wrapped in that yellow netting, to prevent any seeds from coming out upon squeezing. I know some chefs don’t believe in garnishes that aren’t intended to be eaten; what would they think of something patently unedible belonging on a plate! For dinner, I had the lamb chops, braised lamb shoulder, and “potato and catalogna tiella”, which apparently is Italian for potato gratin. Though Ryne and Rob didn’t think much of the lamb, I thought it was pretty good. The lamb chops were perfectly cooked medium rare, and I love any braised meat. In this case, the braising liquid that came with the pieces of lamb shoulder served as a nice sauce for the lamb chops as well, which I found a bit underseasoned on their own. The zeppole were fried well, light and airy, and the slightly sugary bites were complemented by the bitter marmalade of honey and citrus, heavy on the pith.
My favorite mark of service, the frequency of water refills, was happily present throughout the meal, and even after we finished. One service point was while we were not rushed with the check, the waiter, after clearing our plates, never brought us the check at all. We ended up chatting for maybe thirty or forty minutes before finally signaling that we wanted it. I’m curious to find out what people think is the best strategy here, from a restaurant’s point of view–you don’t want to seem like you’re pressuring the guests to leave, but I do think that you should present the check in some discreet manner after dessert, while making it seem that guests can still linger for as long as they want. Alternatively, the most successful restaurateurs know that they make their money by maximizing their covers–increasing the number of tables in a given space, and flipping tables as soon as possible without sacrificing the atmosphere.
Overall, the meal was good, but agreeing with my friends, I didn’t think it was great. Most of the meal items could have been passed off as nice hors d’oeuvres at at a fancy party, but as dinner were merely acceptable. I Trulli seemed like a great place to go for ambience and decor, and the regular menu is probably very solid. However, for someone who appreciates really intense flavors, seasonings, and interesting ingredients, I don’t think I Trulli was very exciting, and one experience there is enough for me.
I Trulli: 2 / 5
122 East 27 Street
New York, NY