I felt majorly bloated after an over-indulgent food week, eating out 5 out of 7 nights a few weeks ago. This was totally abnormal for us poor folks – usually we are only able to grab dinner out of the house an average of once a week. That specific week was different – we had guests from Friday until Thursday (hey, Val!) and we had made dinner plans with people on Thursday and Friday nights. By Friday night, I was wearing a larger jean size. The muffin top was starting to scream, “STOP EATING, AMY!! EVEN I’M RUNNING OUT OF ROOM TO BREATHE!” Poor, poor muffin top! I honestly felt like I couldn’t have another meal out. So, my heart wasn’t as into the search for a restaurant to eat out at on Friday night.
I remembered a place I had saved to ‘My Menu Pages’ a few months ago (NOTE: Menupages is like the locals NYC directory of restaurant menu’s and reviews) called Cacio e Pepe. The name of the restaurant struck me because it is one of our favorite Roman dishes – simple and tasty. Cacio e Pepe, the dish, is simply pasta (traditionally it’s with spaghetti), still piping hot, mixed with a bit of the pasta water, a good heaping of freshly grated Pecorino Romano (this is key – Romans would rarely ever use Parmigiana Reggiano since Romano is, well, Roman), a LARGE helping of freshly ground black peppercorns and there ya have it. When made correctly, it is delectable. After reading a bit more about the restaurant, I discovered that not only was Cacio e Pepe their signature dish, but the presentation was supposedly very creative. They mixed the piping hot pasta in a whole carved out wheel of Pecorino. Nice! I decided that I want to try the restaurant, so we let our friends know to meet us across the street at Bar Veloce, a small, mellow, not-too-pretentious wine bar across the street (HIGHLY recommended!).
We arrived to Cacio e Pepe to a full house, busteling with people laughing, chatting, eating and drinking merrily away. It was a scene reminiscent of most restaurants in Italy. It just had that same feeling, smell and atmosphere. Then I heard the staff all speaking Italian to each other. They warmly greeted us with a “Buona Notte” and told us they would have a table ready in ten minutes. Although I thought they were just pushing us off by telling us this, we soon found out they weren’t lying! Our four-top was ready precisely ten minutes later. Our waiter was affable, attentive and ITALIAN. Hearing “prego” after almost every sentence brought me back to our three weeks traveling around Italy this past summer. It made me happy and I smiled, then I started to groan as I was reminded that our trip was actually long over (that’s my way of dealing with it….I am kind of manic about our big trips being over. Reminicing initially makes me happy and then it soon makes me very depressed!). My funk lifted as I heard the specials – beef tartar with arugula, veal with a black truffle sauce, fettuccine in a porcini cream sauce and bucatini with sardines, raisins and pinenuts. We ordered the salami and cheese platter, the beef tartare special and the cuttlefish stew over polenta to start. Each starter was not only amazingly authentic in taste, but the portions were pretty hefty (the prices aren’t cheap, but they do give you a good amount of food)! The beef tartare was delicious and more simply prepared than the one I ate at A Voce. It was over a bed of peppery arugula greens and dressed with some lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil – this all went splendidly with the tartare. The cuttlefish stew was excellent – tender in a beautiful tomato sauce with pecorino and over a delicate, smooth polenta. Highly recommended! Finally, the cheese and salami platter was delish. Our guests ate most of it, so I only had a few bites. It was a big platter and could’ve been shared by all four of us!
Finally, our entrees were just as expected – authentic and phenomenal. I had the special pasta with sardines, raisins and pinenuts, topped with breadcrumbs – a very Sicilian dish. It reminded me a bit of the Bucatini with Pistachio Sauce we recreated from a meal we ate on Elba Island, Tuscany. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the sauce just perfectly balanced – a delicious special. My husband enjoyed his veal with truffle sauce, although he believed the sauce lacked a little something (perhaps not enough truffle flavor? Black truffles are not as strong as white, so this could possibly be the reason for the mildness). Nonetheless, his large pieces of veal were extremely tender. Our guests ordered the same thing – the pasta special of fettuccine in a porcini cream sauce. Although I only ate a bite, it was heavenly. The fettucini tasted homemade and the cream sauce wasn’t too heavy. Also, they used real porcini’s… not the re-hydrated kind. Excellent.
We topped off our meal with espresso’s and laid back, belly’s full, with a smile on our face. The staff at Cacio e Pepe never rushed us, allowing us to sit, eat, drink and chat for over 2 1/2 hours. Just like real Italians! You don’t find that type of thing often enough in New York City. It was an all-around excellent experience and Cacio e Pepe comes HIGHLY recommended. I only wished we brought our camera so you could see the dishes for yourselves! Ah, well… you’ll just have to trust us and check it out for yourself.