Lupa was one of the first upscale restaurants I went to in NYC, and although it was a long time ago I remember having a pretty good (though not great) meal. I haven’t been there in a long time, though I always kind of meant to go back. I recently had the chance when meeting up for a late dinner with my friends Jeff & Eva for our semi-regular end-of-year meal out. I noticed that the NY Times just reviewed Lupa, and this quote from that review sums up my experience nicely: “At its best it can be highly satisfying, but it’s inconsistent and sometimes has a slightly tired feeling.” Although the food was pretty good, the service was slightly off. Jeff called it “indifferent”, I would add “distracted”. Another table got so fed up waiting for their second course that they demanded their check. “Do you still want the fish?” asked the server. “You can bring the fish,” was the reply. Their check arrived at their before the fish did.
Perhaps the best value on the menu is the verdure miste. There are several vegetable appetizers available for $6 each, but $25 gets you six of them on one plate, perfect for sharing. Clockwise from the bottom is roasted fall squash, boccoli rabe with stracciatella (a soft, fresh cheese), radicchio with almonds and toasted bread, olives marinated with citrus peel and rosemary, beets with pistachio, and potatoes with onions and balsamic. The beets were my favorite — unlike many of the beet dishes I’ve eaten recently, the beets were sweet and flavorful. The potatoes were perfectly seasoned, and the radicchio paired nicely with its condiments. The other vegetables were good, but not particularly noteworthy.
I chose the butternut squash agnolotti as my main. The little tiny pillows of pasta were filled with squash puree and topped with a rich butter sauce and toasted bread crumbs. I wish the squash had been a touch sweeter; as it was the slight sweetness was almost overwhelmed by the rest of the ingredients. Still, it was a very good dish.
We shared two plates of dessert between the three of us, a smoky and flavorful caramel gelato (complete with spoon-print in the middle where it had been dished out, and Apician spiced dates with mascarpone. The dates were warmed with a heavy syrup and spooned over cool, fresh mascarpone. It was delicious, but very, very sweet; it was a good thing we decided to share it.
Lupa remains, to me, a merely good restaurant. There’s no shame in that, of course, and it is a good place to share big plates of food with friends. I only wish the food and the overall experience were more in line with some of NYC’s better restaurants.