Lavagna: A Late-Night Date-Night Go-To
Rarely do I venture further East than 1st Avenue, due to my own West-side-skewed view of Manhattan, yet when imbued with a particularly adventurous spirit this past week and in desperate need of something new, I took NYMag‘s advice and checked out Lavagna. A seductive trattoria on the corner of Avenue B and 5th St, Lavagna defines ‘hidden gem.’ It’s tucked between dark apartment buildings on a quiet street, little foot traffic outside.
The restaurant is cozy and den-like with simple adornments, overdoses of exposed brick, golden flickering candle-light, a tiny bar stocked with twinkling liquor and wine bottles, and a steaming open kitchen. Lavagna is inarguably warm, in atmosphere and in actual temperature – classically chic, it shows that Avenue B does not have to be shabby, uber-casual or ‘hipster’ or any other traditionally East Village-y stereotypes.
The food is rustic and traditional Italian focused on farm-fresh ingredients and classic technique. In true ‘trattoria’ style, the menu concentrates on Italian comfort food: pizzettes from a wood-burning oven, fresh pastas, savory fish preparations, pork chops, lamb chops, juicy steaks, and diverse antipasti. Made-in-America portions keep the belly filled, and delicacy is tossed to the wind with tasty bold flavors.
Hungry after a long day at the office, my boyfriend and I split the pan-seared scallops ‘agrodulce’ to start and then moved on to the risotto special and the pork chop. All three of the scallops were generously seared with a tantalizing caramelization – the accompanying parsnip puree and crispy pancetta married sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy together perfectly. The risotto special incorporated spinach, mint, and snow peas into a slightly crunchy, slightly runny, and slightly off-green risotto. While the flavors were spot-on: savory, sweet, and deliciously vegetarian (!), the consistency was off – too wet and just not soft enough. Regardless, this enormously large and satisfying special kept me coming back for more, even if I thought (just once) that I couldn’t polish it off. John’s roasted pork chop was a beautiful golden brown color and perfectly cooked. While the white beans and grilled radicchio seemed a bit, well, lame on the plate, the super juicy pork chop reminded me of how fitting roasted meat truly is on a cold windy night.
Lavagna steers clear of all pretention and offers up the perfect ambience for a romantic date or a cozy dinner with buds. The soft amber lighting flatters everyone, and the aromatic unfussy comfort food certainly put me into a happy lazy food stupor. Not to mention, awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence, Lavagna’s extensive wine menu offers an impressive array of social lubricants. In the mood for some under-rated and off-the-beaten-track Italian romance? Lavagna’s my pick.