Dropping in at Porsena
January 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
Ever since I learned that Sara Jenkins of Porchetta was opening a pasta restaurant in the East Village, I was looking forward to the opportunity to see how the very talented Jenkins would translate her pork prowess to pasta and other mediums. So when looking for a nearby dinner spot with two friends on Saturday, I quickly suggested Porsena and they gladly agreed to give it a go. We walked into the restaurant right around 8pm expecting a wait as we did not have reservations. As a nota bene, we learned that Porsena does accept reservations, so I’d definitely recommend going that route if possible.
Luckily, the friendly hostess told us we could probably snag three seats at the bar as a group there was being seated shortly. It took about half an hour for their party to arrive and to migrate from the bar to their table, so we had plenty of time to peruse the menu and short but well-assembled wine list. We settled on a nice Cannonau which the bartended presented to my friend Craig, who is certainly a wine guy. When Craig suggested upon smell that the wine as corked, the friendly bartender who served us promptly smelled and tasted it, agreeing with him and quickly replacing our bottle.
As for the menu, I would say the pastas are definitely the strongest category so we focused our efforts there and threw in a few starters for good measure. We started with a wilted escarole salad, which packed a nice burst of acidity and salt thanks to a garlic anchovy dressing, and a salt cod and potato dish (almost like a spread) served with toast points. Along with several dishes, we found the salt cod to be a bit under seasoned but salt and pepper quickly solved that problem bringing out the inherent flavors nicely.
Upon consulting the bartender, she quickly recommended the Annellini with Spicy Lamb Sausage and Mustard Greens, we rounded that out with the Lasagna al Forno which we’d heard good things about and the Penette with roasted cauliflower, olives, capers, garlic, toasted breadcumbs. All three were declicious but the annellini definitely stole the show. It was hard to pinpoint the exact source of the heat – it almost had an asian undernote to it like Sriracha, but it worked beautifully in the slightly creamy sauce that coated the wide rings of perfectly cooked pasta. The lasagna, which did away with tomato sauce in favor of just bechamel with meat ragu, was nicely puffed from baking when it arrived at the bar, had a wonderful crust of cheese and bread crumbs that remained crisp even as it slowly deflated.
All in all, it was a wonderful meal and came at a very reasonable price (about $40 per person before tip for 2 apps, 3 pastas and a bottle of wine). I actually believe dining at the bar may have improved our experience as things in the dining room seemed a bit more frenetic and less efficient, which I attribute to still being relatively new. I especially liked seeing Chef Jenkins in the pass expediting food in the open kitchen and a large wooden table just a few feet away that would be a cool spot for a larger group of 6-8 people.
One interesting topic of conversation over dinner, was the font of the restaurant’s logo which can be found on the menu link above. My friend Emily and I determined it was reminiscent of both a Western and a Swiss Chalet both circa 1950 in the best of ways. Still trying to figure out how those two came to mind or if in fact there is some common stylistic theme there…