Saturday, December 10, 2005

Roberto Passon

The snowstorm that never came on Monday (I saw like three flakes—the weatherman was so off) pretty much ruined any chance of having my entire family together to celebrate my birthday. Mama Rose and little bro Rose both did not want to drive back in the predicted (although unrealized) weather conditions, but Papa Rose did make it into the city.

Having already cancelled our original reservation at a swanky uptown restaurant (which will remain nameless because a new reservation—and eventual review—has been made), we decided to try a new-ish (it opened up right before I left for Asia this summer) Hell’s Kitchen Italian restaurant called Roberto Passon. Zagat and citysearch both had pretty decent reviews and Papa Rose really wanted Italian.

I’ve always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with Italian restaurants, whether it is Northern or Southern cuisine. Most tend to serve pasta that’s extremely heavy and loaded with sauce, therefore overpowering the texture of the pasta itself. Another common problem I’ve encountered is that the pasta is almost always overdone—a mushy plate of pasta, yuck! When I have eaten some great Italian meals, they’ve often been extremely expensive (or even just plainly overpriced). So I was a bit hesitant to try this new joint in my ‘hood. Would I just end up with a blown up belly, an unsatisfied tongue and a much lighter wallet?

I am happy to report that it was one my best meals of 2005.

The restaurant, owned by New York City Restaurant Group, features Venetian cuisine (i.e. lots of seafood and spices) by—get this—chef Roberto Passon. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten Venetian cuisine (or at least not knowingly) other than my trip to Venice some three years ago, so to try it once again—with hopefully a more refined set of taste buds—turned out to be a pretty great choice.

The restaurant is located in the former space of Dashkin—an Indian restaurant that should have sailed out long before it did this past spring. Dashkin’s boring red awning and orangish exterior brick walls have been painted an eye-popping bright yellow—I noticed the restaurant from almost a block away! The interior is simple in design—the light beige walls are only decorated with just a few wine racks that display some of the restaurant’s all Italian wine selection.

Our waiter was clearly Italian—he had a lovely accent and was pretty good lookin’ to boot (hey, it never hurts). Unfortunately, for me that is, he went off shift before our meal ended, but alas, he was replaced by yet another good lookin’ Italian man—this restaurant seems to be stocking up on all the best eye candy from Italy. Ah, but I digress—both our waiters were friendly, always prompt in taking our orders and serving us our food.

Now, onto the review of much more important matters...the food and the drink!

Speaking of the latter, I had had the whole day to think about what kind of drink I wanted to celebrate my birthday with. I realized I was best to have a glass of one of my favorite drinks. Unfortunately, they’re wine selection does not have any Italian version of champagne rosé, nothing even close. Our handsome waiter suggested I try a Kir Royale. While it did not have the same soft fizzle I love in champagne rosé, it was sufficient.

As we often do in the Rose clan, we decided to split our entrees—that way we could sample more than one dish. We chose three appetizers: a warm beet salad with haricot verts and leeks that was garnished with crushed walnuts and alpha sprouts, fried rice balls stuffed with saffron and mozzarella on a bed of thick marinara sauce sprinkled with some alpha sprouts (chef seems to like this ingredient) and breaded sardines with caramelized onions and raisins on a bed of sweet potato.

I chose the salad in part because of a recent blog post on beets by Shauna, who made beets sound so much tastier than they look in the produce section of my local supermarket. My first bite told me I had made the right decision. The warm soft beets really complimented the crunchier haricot verts and the leeks spiced the entire dish just a tiny notch.

While I enjoyed the rice balls—salty and lightly spiced, I have to admit they tasted like a zupped up version of a mozzarella stick. The sweet chunky marinara sauce didn’t help in distinguishing them from their bar food cousin.

Papa Rose had most of the sardine dish and he felt that the sweetness of the onions and raisins balanced out the saltiness of the sardines. He felt it wasn’t overly heavy, considering it was breaded.

Our two entrees came up out one at a time. First, they served us taglieri with lamb ragu—a thin, narrow and flat variety similar to spaghetti that was by far one of the freshest bowls of pasta I have ever eaten. The meat bits were just at peak tenderness and there was only enough sauce to coat the pasta, rather than drowning it. Papa Rose felt that it was one of the best ragues he’s ever eaten!

For our second entrée, we had a Mediterranean sea bass that was baked in a coating of sea salt. Our second handsome Italian waiter brought the fish tableside, removing the salt, de-boning it and squeezing a fresh lemon over the whole thing. I must admit, watching him carefully arrange the fish on our plates was added entertainment. Again, I digress…the fish had a good balance of flavor and texture—it was subtly salty and fluffy soft with just a hint of acidity from the lemon juice.

Maybe the only slight disappointment in our meal could be found in the desserts. There was nothing inherently wrong with them, but neither my saffron crème brulée nor Papa Rose’s profiteroles (supposedly the chef’s favorite) were standouts. They were just good—satisfying but nothing that leaves your mouth craving for one more bite.

However, Papa Rose—a finicky eater, to say the least—did say “This whole meal was excellent, all cooked just the way I like it!” And I have to agree with him because it really is so hard to find good Italian fare and at such reasonable prices. The lamb ragu was a steal at $13! The sea bass was a tad more at $28, but it was also a special that night and had been cooked cooked so well to be worth the extra money.

Overall, prices were really not bad at all, considering the quality of the food—especially the freshness of the pasta, the variety of ingredients and the creativity of the dishes. If you’re looking for a good, unpretentious and practical place to eat before or after seeing a show (it is in the theatre district) or are just looking for good Italian fare at reasonable prices, Roberto Passon is an excellent choice.

Roberto Passon
741 Ninth Ave, NYC


Blogger Mona said...

Nice review Rose! My dad's always taking us out for Italian food in the city. I'll have to suggest this one for next time, and maybe we'll skip dessert :)

1:29 PM  
Blogger 1956 said...

I can tell you that we took my mother-in-law to Roberto Passon. She was born in Venice and is very difficult to please. She gave Passon 4 stars, especially the Fegato alla Veneziana (liver with onions) and Risotto ai Porcini.
You have good taste!!!

2:09 PM  
Blogger Sempion said...

Stupid american bitch

11:17 AM  

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