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The Chef’s Tasting Menu at Torrisi Italian Specialties – Italian – Nolita
May 1st, 2012 by donuts4dinner

Italian food in New York City is terrible. Most of all in Little Italy. It’s all aimed at tourists, who are so enraptured with the closed, car-free streets and the outdoor seating that they forget to notice the bland, uninspired food. And then there’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, which was bold and impassioned, playful and polished–an embodiment of New York City itself.

Torrisi’s seven course, $65 prix-fixe menu is a steal and has received nothing but raves, but of course we couldn’t settle for a mere seven courses and went for the twenty-one course, $150 chef’s tasting menu with seven excellent wine pairings for $75.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
our Americano

This “mocktail”, a riff on the classic Americano, was made not with Campari and vermouth but juice and housemade bitters. My favourite part of it was the giant square ice cube. I’m not hard to please.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
pretzels

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
smoked sable cigarette

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
the quail’s olive

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
rabbit and carrot

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
buckwheat caviar knish

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
chicken and cashews

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
escargot casino

Torrisi is a bustling deli by day, serving a brined turkey sandwich office workers while away their lunch breaks waiting in line for, and the bar snacks were the perfect interlude to switch the tiny kitchen from that of a casual sandwich shop to one that puts a high Italian spin on the cuisines the people who make up NYC. These one-biters came at us so fast–in pairs or triplets–that I forgot to photograph the clam with celery and spicy oyster on the half shell. The Doughy caraway pretzels were like mustard-flavored gnocchi, the sable cigarette a kind-of-nasty/kind-of-clever reminder of the salmon cone at Per Se. The olive wasn’t an olive at all but a soft quail egg with a pleasant, not overpowering olive flavor; I was a little put off by the inedible accoutrements (though I would totally eat bay leaves if people would stop telling me I can’t) but loved the spoons they were presented on. The rabbit with carrot puree was sweet and herby with a crunchy base, and the caviar, served on a bed of buckwheat, was homey and warm. Not only was the caviar’s serving dish stunning, but we loved being able to decide how deep into the groats we wanted to plunge our knishes; the grain was easily crunched, like a nut. The chicken oyster, a nugget of dark meat on the chicken’s outer thigh, was so flavorful and juicy but really stood up to the cashews in a way I wouldn’t expect from such a tender piece of meat. The snails were sour, chewy, and only slightly less firm than the bacon chunks that accompanied them; it wasn’t my favourite dish of the night in flavor nor texture, but I appreciated the take on clams casino and was excited to try my first snail after all these years of fine dining without having ever been faced with one.

all paired with Lieb Cellars, Pinot Blanc, NV (nonvintage, which means it’s a blend of multiple years), NY

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Brighton beets

These beets, a nod to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s still so Russian you need a tourguide to help you navigate restaurant menus, were a mix of crisp and tender, fresh and long-cooked. Sour apples and fried onions added to the already bright flavors.

• mackerel in crazy water

I missed this photo, as well, likely dazed by the idea of eating a traditionally very fishy fish alongside the most dreaded of all foods for me: tomato. But this was more like a gazpacho than a fresh salad, and the mackerel–served raw–was so unfishy it could’ve been sturgeon or halibut. The tomatoes, which were preserved, had the flavor of watermelon, and the sea beans added a crisp bite.

Bloomer Creek, Tanzen Dame, 2010, NY

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
foie gras newberg

Served at the same time and meant to be shared, the foie gras and tartare are updates of dishes made famous by one of the oldest and most noted steakhouses in NYC, Delmonico’s. The original Lobster Newberg was made with a creamy, buttery, alcoholic sauce; here, the sweet foie is topped with a brandy gelee and served with a salty, meaty, spiced oyster mushroom salad.

The Delmonico’s tuna tartare becomes a steak tartare with crisp, sour cornichon slices and a Béarnaise sauce that I can only dumbly describe as buttery. The presentation wowed me to the point that I was still taking photos of the delicately-carved pickles even as half of them had already been devoured. Spread on the thickest, saltiest, caper-powdered potato chips, it was more finesse than novelty.

But you can bet the novelty of the Demonico’s plates wasn’t wasted on me.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Delmonico tartare

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Kalin Cellars, Chardonnay, 2005, CA

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Dancing Ewe sheep ricotta and ramps

This gnocchi was covered in a sauce so creamy and dense with peppercorn flavor, I would’ve paid for the pleasure of licking the pan. The ramps had the texture of green onion but are known for their more intense aroma and what my boyfriend called their “racier” taste. The ramps evidently replace the scallions that were being served on the oft-photographed version of this made with Coach Farms goat cheese; it had a strip of coffee/caramel/tobacco water “leather” on the side with the word “COACH” stamped on it like the label of one of the knockoff designer handbags sold in Chinatown. The more straight presentation of this dish makes me wonder if Torrisi is headed away from whimsical presentations or if they just weren’t in the mood to use marijuana syrup to draw a sheep in a ballerina costume on my plate.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
lobster Cantonese

Just plain delicious, no matter what cuisines it’s trying to emulate, this vermicelli with lobster evoked the flavors of Chinatown with soy and scallion. The crunchy breadcrumbs made the lobster seem deep-fried, like sweet and sour pork gone high class.

Arnot Roberts, Rose, 2011, CA

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
ravioli caruso

This apparently replaced the much-lauded beef ragu for us and was probably a more interesting if not grandma-reminiscent dish. The chicken liver filling, contained in the most perfectly-cooked raviolo, verged on too iron-flavored at times but was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the tomato sauce. The brown butter with accents of sage added deep flavors ripe for red wine pairings. Food & Wine says that this dish was “named for the famed tenor who backed the epic NYC restaurant Mamma Leone’s ([chefs] Torrisi and Carbone cite Mamma Leone as an inspiration alongside Thomas Keller and Joël Robuchon in a video they made about themselves)”.

Coturri, Carignone, Testa Vineyard, 2009, CA

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Jewish lamb

A young man brought this gleaming dish of tomahawk lamb chop to our table and unannoyedly held it while I photographed it. And then held it over the table of the people beside us when I said he was too close for my lens to focus. But in all fairness, they had been ogling our table all night as they sat there with the regular, ol’ prix-fixe dishes, so they owed me.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

The loin and deckle together were not-fatty and fatty, gamey and not-gamey, delicious in their own ways when accompanied by fried mint and peeled grapes. The deckle had a thick glaze and a chewier texture, while the loin was leaner and less adorned. The chop itself was more impressive than the finished dish, but that’s always the way with these things.

Wind Gap, Syrah, 2008, CA

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
bitters green

A sour, bitter palate cleanser to prepare us for the sweet, sweet desserts.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
cheese danish

We were served two pieces from a large danish cut into fours and kept under a glass dome. It didn’t matter how our slices tasted, because all we could think was that we wanted the other two. It was buttery, with a burst of poppyseed flavor. The onions were sweet, the cheese so thick and creamy. But who was going to eat the other two pieces?! The kitchen? The servers? MORE IMPORTANT DINERS WHO GOT SIX SLICES INSTEAD OF FOUR? No! No, actually, our server returned with the other two slices when he saw us finish the first two. Phew.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
ginger-lemon ice

Surprisingly creamy for an icy treat, with a strong bite from the ginger. This was unlike any shaved ice, snow cone, or slushie I’ve had.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
maraschino float

This tasted like really expensive medicine, and I mean that in the best way. It was so strongly flavored, maraschino cherry ice cream alongside a root beer financier made of creamy mousse covered in a chocolate shell, with mashed pretzels providing the contrasting saltiness. All attempts to suck the cherry soda through the straw were fruitless and embarrassing, but at least it was edible.

Heitz Cellars, Port, NV, CA

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
pastries

People eating the prix-fixe around us were getting a small plate with the old-timey (and incredibly not-crave-worthy) bakery staple, the rainbow cookie, so we couldn’t have been more impressed when we instead were served this giant cake stand of pastries with the chef’s tasting. For each of us, there was an apple donut, a pistachio and lime truffle, a crumb cake, a pine nut macaron, celery cake, a really not-sweet cannoli, a mint chocolate truffle, and seaweed taffy. All of it was impressive. Even the seaweed taffy. They also sent us each home with a little box containing a rainbow cookie, ironically, and you know what? Even it was powerfully flavored and much, much better than any day-old rainbow cookie in any Italian bakery.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi is playful, gutsy, and aiming to please. The week before we dined here, my boyfriend and I had the chef’s tasting at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant that was supposed to be the best meal of our lives, and eating at Torrisi was a better experience. Where that restaurant was pretentious, Torrisi was humble. Where that restaurant was aloof, Torrisi was friendly, giving us details and stories associated with each dish. Where that restaurant was silent and imposing, Torrisi was filled with cool, jazzy music and couples not looking to out-foodie anyone. The only problem was that, as my boyfriend said, no one bite at Torrisi compared to any one bite at that restaurant. Nothing disappointed, but nothing had us using phrases like “the most” or “the best”, and we have used those words at similarly-priced restaurants. The effort is evident, though. You feel like Torrisi is making the absolute best food it can at this moment, and I have high hopes for its future.

Note: for the seven-course menu, reservations can be made up to a month in advance on the website or by calling (212) 965-0955. Reservations for the chef’s tasting can be made up to a month in advance and must be made by phone Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I recommend calling right at 9 a.m., and even then, you’ll probably have to dial and redial for fifteen minutes straight to get through.

Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry St.
New York, NY 10012 (map)


15 Responses  
  • Kim writes:
    May 1st, 20121:02 pmat

    I can’t believe how much you just hated on The Rainbow Cookie. Whatever. The only dessert on your plate that interests me at all is the seaweed taffy. Rainbow cookies 5-EVER.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      May 1st, 20122:17 pmat

      I was going to be like, “What sort of bland, non-gluttonous person defends rainbow cookies?” And then I realized that you’re the same person who left 15 Oreo truffles at my apartment instead of taking them and eating all of them on the train by yourself before your roommate could get any.

  • Andrew writes:
    May 2nd, 20128:49 amat

    21 courses for $150? What a bargain! I like the references to Brooklyn Fare in your conclusion and am looking forward to reading your full review.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      May 2nd, 201211:55 amat

      More courses makes writing reviews a looooot more tedious, but I do love all of the variety! I didn’t want to straight-up call out Brooklyn Fare, but it’s funny that you recognized it. I can’t wait to write that review, but first I have to transcribe all three hours of the meal. Not that we recorded it.

  • han writes:
    May 2nd, 20126:35 pmat

    gahhhzzzzz this tasting has been on my list for forever long. beautiful !

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      May 3rd, 20122:17 pmat

      Yes! Do it! Take pictures of all the things I missed!

  • Jess + Garrett writes:
    May 3rd, 20129:43 amat

    Lovely, lovely, lovely photos. Nicely done!

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      May 3rd, 20124:47 pmat

      Thank you! Finally got around to adding your blog to my sidebar today, ’cause donuts4dinner hearts YOU.

  • Cassie writes:
    May 3rd, 201211:52 amat

    Just so you know, I would never eat at pretensions restaurant. This one? Totally. Even though I wouldn’t touch rabbit with a 10 foot pole.

    • donuts4dinner writes:
      May 3rd, 20124:45 pmat

      Whaaaaaaat? Just because they’re cute?

  • ChubbyChineseGirl writes:
    May 22nd, 20122:59 pmat

    Katie, love love love the photos!!!! and the new site format!!!!
    this place is on my list, just haven’t found the time, after seeing your pics, I MUST GO asap!!!!

  • Date Night. Torrisi. | On the real. writes:
    September 4th, 20122:49 pmat

    [...] you the blow-by-blow for each course, because you can read about it from actual food writers here, here, and here, but I will tell you that the 22 course culinary journey through the history of New York [...]

  • NYC Restaurant Reviews » Eleven Madison Park: The Best Restaurant in NYC? writes:
    January 11th, 201312:56 pmat

    [...] created a menu that riffs on some of the dishes most associated with NYC, much like the tasting at Torrisi Italian Specialties. This first amuse was a take on the black and white cookie, made savory with black truffle and [...]

  • NYC Restaurant Reviews » Del Posto’s Eight-Course Captain’s Tasting Menu writes:
    January 24th, 20133:26 pmat

    [...] I wrote in my Torrisi Italian Specialties review that Italian food in NYC is terrible, bland, and uninspired, the good people of the [...]

  • NYC Restaurant Reviews » The Lunch Tasting Menu at Babbo writes:
    March 27th, 20133:02 pmat

    [...] Babbo was way, way back in 2010, before we had visited NYC’s Italian heavy-hitters like Torrisi Italian Specialties and Del Posto. At the time, I said that Babbo was doing Italian food better than anyone in its [...]


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