Friday, December 12, 2008

If you want to throw money away on restaurants...

I suspect my readers have figured out by now that I'm more of a fan of the below-the-radar sort of restaurant than the one that's being written about by Frank Bruni or Adam Platt.

Not that I'm not fond of a good celebrity chef. And there are some seriously fancy restaurants in the city where you do feel as if you've died and gone to heaven. (I'm thinking specifically of Daniel, Del Posto and several of the Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurants -- which are, by the way, offering some insane deals right now.) But, generally, a lot of these places are, when you get right down to it, seriously overpriced. And because they attract the rich and famous, they feel entitled to treat the rest of their customers like cattle. (One of the good sides of the recession is the fact that no one is taking a customer for granted anymore.)

But, in general, as much as I savor a really excellent foie gras made by a pro, I've always found it more exciting to find a really great $1 slice of pizza in the Bronx. Or some excellent dan-dan noodles out in Sunset Park. Or a decent delicatessen anywhere in this city. Call it a symptom of my peasant tastes.

However, when you have a great meal at a classy restaurant (moreover, a great meal that does not make you feel ripped off) it should be noted.

So I would advise my fellow schlubs with expense accounts to check out Insieme in the Michaelangelo Hotel.

Of course, it will never defeat my favorite Italian restaurant (Queen) in my eyes. Nor can it really compete with Mario Batali's truly remarkable restaurant, Del Posto.

But Insieme is truly excellent food.

I went there yesterday for lunch (it was the second time I had been there) and it was really superb.

The spinach lasagna (which I had the first time I went there) is made with a really enviable bolognese sauce. The best bolognese? No. But really, really well done.

But yesterday I had a pasta appetizer which really made me swoon -- the ravioli de testa, a ravioli filled with pork cheeks. And, no exaggeration, that was one of the best raviolis I have had in the city. Very tender and perfectly seasoned. I licked my plate.

My main course was also excellent -- a roasted cod with garlic puree and chickpeas. The chickpeas were a little crunchy for my taste, but the fish was excellent.

The publicist I was dining with had the branzino for her appetizer, and she liked it so much that she wasn't about to offer me a bite -- which I can't exactly blame her for. It looked really delicious. Likewise the minestrone. (Although I can understand not sharing soup.)

But the thing that pleased me the most was the bill. The pastas are all $11 for an appetizer portion -- $22 for a main course. Given how tasty they are, I'd say that's pretty reasonable. (And the appetizer portion is not insignificant.) Likewise, the most expensive main course is $27. In this city, that's not bad.

All in all, if you're going to go for the Michelin starred restaurant (and Insieme does, indeed, have a star) you could do a lot worse.