Recently, through a PR connection, I was invited to a lovely dinner, compliments of the chef, at Montenapo. I brought my bestest friend and we shared a lovely meal. The space boasts high ceilings and windows, while the floor is sunken from street level, and an atrium is in the back. It’s actually a very beautiful restaurant.
We were seated quickly, and brought this bread basket. One of my biggest complaints about Italian restaurants is always the lack of butter; I know you’re meant to use olive oil for dipping – which was on every table in small bottles – but I just prefer butter. Beyond that, the foccacia was alright, but the breadsticks were really good; slightly garlicky cheesey, salty with a good snap to them, they were great to munch on throughout the meal.
We were brought the above amuse bouche; both of us heard the waiter say that it was pork with radishes, but it’s clearly salmon. Either way, it was a nice refreshing bite to start off our meal.
After much poring over the menu, we opted to share everything and start with two items: the aragosta, which was lobster in a tomato gazpacho topped with salmon roe. This was a lovely dish, with many wonderful flavors going on, although I would have preferred they cut the lobster for us since using a regular knife was a bit unwieldy. Otherwise, this was delicious.
Tuna tartare – that little bit of white towards the bottom left of the picture is a semi-soft-boiled quail egg, which went really well with the dish. Avocado, chopped raw tuna, clementine supremes… another delicious dish, though both of us agreed that this dish was tastier than the lobster dish. We both ate this happily.
Next up, for our pasta course, we opted to get pasta tastings, since we both wanted to try so many pastas. I love that they do this – it makes it easier to try more things! All of the pastas we ordered were made in-house, which is amazing that they make so many different kinds of pasta themselves.
Fettucine with assorted mushrooms – earthy, creamy, I would have preferred slightly more portobellos, but still pretty good.
Agnolotti stuffed with veal cheeks. This was definitely the favorite among the pastas – musky from the veal, but in a good way, not a gamey way – popping with a ton of umami – and still delicate pasta wrapped around that all, I really liked my bit, as did BFF.
Last but not least was rigatoni, with guanciale, onions, rosemary. I’d described guanciale as being ‘essence of pork, but better’ to BFF and this was slightly disappointing – not the dish, but the thin slices of guanciale looked and felt like floppy bacon, minus the smoky saltiness. Still, the pasta itself was perfectly cooked and well-flavored with the rosemary, but the guanciale was lost to me.
For one of our main courses, we went with the zuppa di pesce, which I’ve actually never had before. I thought it was alright, but I guess I’m not a zuppa di pesce person – the point of tomato broth is usually lost on me (I don’t like Manhattan style clam chowder, and the only soup I can think of that I really like that has tomatoes is ribollita). The seafood was fresh, though… and BFF didn’t like the crostini on top – we both initially thought “Is that pate on that piece of bread?” but it turned out to be olive tapenade; she doesn’t like olives, though I found that dipping it into the broth was quite nice.
For our other main course, we went with ossobuco. Oh my gosh. The meat so tender and succulent that a gentle prod with our fork yielded hunks of the soft, delicious meat… the saffron risotto so creamy and delicious… and of course, the marrow, scooped out and devoured – complete essence of veal right there – just amazing. I was in love with this dish, trying not to eat more than my share just so in love. Delicious. I now seek to make my own osso buco. Oh my stars. I totally want to eat this again, just looking at the photo.
We were stuffed beyond belief at this point, and even opted to take some food home, but were brought a tasting tray of desserts.
Tiramisu, which was alright, definitely different in presentation and style from the norm.
Lemon ricotta cheesecake; the lemon gave the cake a nice zing, and it was super fluffy, reminding me more of sponge cake than cheesecake, but it doesn’t fall into my realm of preferences for dessert. Perfectly lovely though – just not my personal preference.
Surprisingly, the triple chocolate threat (I actually am not sure of the real name – I think it had the word ‘night’ in Italian in it though?) was what got me out of the three. I didn’t find it too sweet – one of my major problems with most desserts – but enjoyed the creamy coolness of the dessert. I ate about half of this before realizing if I took just one more bite, I would literally explode everywhere. Not a pretty sight, so I stopped myself 🙂
Incredibly, the place never filled up, maybe because it was a Thursday evening. Our server was super nice and knowledgeable about what he served us, and attentive enough that our sparkling wine glasses never went empty (though our water glasses were suspiciously ignored, strangely). I have no complaints about the place overall – the dishes are priced accordingly given the quality, location, and deliciousness; the space is really gorgeous; the service was attentive and inobtrusive. However – and this is the biggest issue, I suppose – I could only recommend this place for a business lunch or a pre-theater dinner, given the location in the New York Times building. While it’s not located inconveniently in the middle of nowhere, unless you’re going to the theater, it is located in a part of Midtown that is empty and dead after business hours.
Having said that, though… they do have a pre-fixe theater menu for $41 a person, and I am definitely not adverse to trying that the next time I go. Because yes, there will be a next time for me… I am dreaming of ossobuco already… BFF also liked the place quite a bit.
Yvo says: I highly recommend Montenapo for those in need of a place for a business lunch or a pre-theater dinner date. During the day, the space lights up through the huge windows and gives it a very airy, open feel; at night, shadows filter through the windows and create many a cozy nook for a little bit of snuggling up to your date before the theater. The food is excellent, sized appropriately for sharing everything, and delicious without trying too hard. I will definitely be back (and willing to pay with my own money!).