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Lupa: Not Batali’s Best…or Worst

In the past 6 months, I’ve been to my fair share of Batali establishments, ranging from the most expensive (Del Posto) to the least (Otto). Lupa, Batali and Bastianich’s Roman trattoria, sits in the middle of the Batali empire, in terms of quality and price. Located in the heart of NYU-dom, on crowded and restaurant-heavy Thompson Street, Lupa mimics the cozy yet boozy, busy and bustling vibe of the neighborhood with plenty of requisite exposed brick, packed-in tables, a buzzing bar, soft golden light, and rows upon rows of glinting wine bottles. The look is casual yet sophisticated – classic Batali with lots of style and pizzazz, warm Italian character, and little pretention.

The menu is also what you would expect from a Roman trattoria conceptualized by the Batali/Bastianich team; it features small antipasti bowls of vegetables, seafood, meat and cheese, classic pastas, traditional secondi dishes, and a plethora of special additions based on market availability. In all honesty, the food barely hovers around average – the pastas were acceptable, the secondi entrees were better than anything else on the table, and some of the antipasti options were close to inedible (and $10 each!). Steer clear of the broccoli rabe and ricotta vegetable option – it’s bitter, cold, and chalky in the mouth- and be prepared for an onslaught of pepper notes in the salumi (to be cherished by some and despised by others).

I had hopes that the pasta would be soul-satisfying with flavors that linger long afterwards. Unfortunately, while they were tasty, they certainly got nowhere near crave-worthy status. The Bavette Cacio e Pepe was delightfully peppery with the hot zingy aftertaste a shower of fresh black pepper offers, yet the pasta itself tasted as though it were out of a box and slightly overcooked; similarly, the Spaghetti Algio e Olio was something I could make at my place for half the price and all the flavor (in essence, nothing special). Surprisingly, the secondi dishes outshone the pastas (seemingly impossible, according to me, in Italian restaurants). The major highlight? The pork shoulder – well-spiced, savory and sweet, so soft it just melted in your mouth – was incredible; it was so good that we spliced it up and put it in our pasta to add a little oomph.

Lupa didn’t live up to expectations and it didn’t wow – did it serve its purpose as a comfortable and relaxed date night spot? Absolutely. Did it give me a meal to remember? No. Last question, is that ok? Yes. Lupa keeps it simple and good – I would never recommend it for those looking for mind-blowing Italian, but if you’re willing to settle for a comfortable, sophisticated and fun atmosphere sans top-notch food, Lupa’s your spot.

Perfect For: first dates, a dinner with hip parents, wine-fueled ladies night out, appetizers and vino, casual yet trendy dinner with friends

Lupa on Urbanspoon

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