Sunday, March 7, 2010

Il Melograno (New York, NY)

I rarely do a restaurant review (probably because many of the places where we live and eat aren't really note-worthy). This weekend, however we went to NYC for J's birthday. As is the custom with the two of us we spent an unholy amount of time trying to decide where to eat. Finally I just made a decision and we went with it.

Il Melograno is owned by an Italian gentleman, Alberto, who according to the couple seated to the side of us, once owned a very successful restaurant in the Italian Alps. Located on the corner of W. 51st St and 10th Avenue a mere 20 min walk from our accommodations on Central Park Sout, Il Melograno means pomegranate in Italian.

Our first impressions were a little shaky, mostly due to the fact that it was such a busy night. No more than 15 tables and seating for approximately 30 made our first 15 or so an interesting affair. There were two couples and a single gentlemen waiting for a table ahead of us (in a space only big enough to hold two people comfortably. If it wasn't winter I would have been very happy to wait outside because it was apparent that we were in the way. A six top was open and after some quick thinking they separated the tables to form three two tops. The single gentleman (who may have been a critic for the way he was approaching the meal, decided he would rather wait for the more spacious bench table near the door. This move wedged us between two couples (most likely in their 60s). Once they brought me a chair, things began to run more smoothly.

The way the restaurant is set up, the pass is right along the aisle that patrons must walk through to enter and exit the back tables in the restaurant. This afforded us the view of all food being served at the restaurant (which was quite a treat and made ordering easier). We were also able to watch the fluidity with which Alberto moved from the role of owner, to head chef, to bus boy, to cashier, to expediting. The man did it all in the hour and a half that we were there.

The best way for me to describe the atmosphere is dynamic. This is not the place to go for a quiet dinner for two, with white tablecloths and old world restaurant manners. The staff was vibrant, youthful, and helpful. The kitchen being part of the dining area was not conducive to low whispered conversations with an illicit lover (if that's your particular situation). We were so close to our fellow diners that by the end of the meal we had made friends with one of the couples who was distantly related through marriage to the owner.

Not knowing what wine we wanted to order the couple next to us directed us to ask for a taste of the house red. It was a little too heavy for my taste in wine. I prefer light to medium bodied wines. We each had a glass of the Pinot Noir instead. They pour very generously by the glass so I didn't feel cheated not ordering the bottle. The staff was also very attentive to filling up my water glass.

The menu on is not complete and obviously would not include specials, but their website is under construction so at the moment it was the only resource we had. Originally we were going to order the Cecina, a puree of chickpeas and basil, which sounded similar to a pesto hummus but after seeing them at the pass we went with one of the specials: arugula, tomato, and orange salad as an accompaniment to grilled swordfish, shrimp, and calamari. J was torn between homemade pasta (most of the pasta is homemade and specified as so on the menu) with pesto or the rack of lamb, with spinach, and roasted potatoes. The lamb was very good. I was deciding between several of the pasta dishes and when it came down to the penne with wild mushroom ragout, mascarpone cheese & fresh rosemary or the fresh pappardelle with sweet sausage sauce, peas and truffle oil, my server directed me to try the fresh pasta instead. The only complaint I have (and it's a personal taste issue) is that the sauce contained some red (I believe bell) pepper and I would have liked that specified on the menu because I'm not the biggest fan of peppers in my red sauce. The dish was still delicious and I would definitely order it again.
Sorry for the picture quality but I didn't want to bother the other people dining so close to us, and it was a difficult to see if it was focused or not.
For dessert I thought perhaps the tiramisu would be too boring, so we ordered the apple and nutella cake with vanilla gelato. I don't think it was fresh so we would have been better with the tiramisu. Our dinner companions said it was the best tiramisu they had ever eaten and offered us a taste. J liked it so much that he ordered one to go. Later Alberto came to speak to the other table and we complimented the chef and they brought us all limoncello. The other gentleman we were sitting with (not realizing J had bought a second dessert to go) told Alberto that J needed tiramisu instead of limoncello, so we had a bite of that as well.

Overall I would go back to Il Melograno. It was very reasonably priced and well located. The cramped quarters were not as distracting as I thought they might be.

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