Saturday, May 05, 2007

Petrarca Cucina E Vino - A Casual New York Trattoria with Superb Food and Wine!

Wikipedia defines Serendipity as "the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. The word derives from an old Persian fairy tale and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January, 1754 in a letter he wrote to a friend. The letter read,

"I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip. As their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of."

Today was a serendipitous day for my wife Trudi, my sister Vicki, and I when we discovered a charming restaurant in lower Manhattan called Petrarca Cucina E Vino.

We originally set out from SoHo to participate in the TriBeCa Family Festival Street Fair, which we were told was located somewhere on Church Street. But alas, we found out - after walking down to the World Trade Center (about 20 blocks) - that the Street Fair was located elsewhere.

It was on the way back through TriBeCa that we happened upon Petrarca Cucina E Vino. I was immediately attracted to the restaurant by its resemblance to the trattorias that I frequented in Tuscany.

The interior was uncluttered, with nicely spaced tables, so that you didn't have to be involved in your fellow diners' conversations. The walls were lined with wine racks, interspaced with jars of preserved fruit. This environment made me feel like I could just "chill out" and enjoy a casual meal - something which is hard to come by in The Big Apple.

The wine menu was impressive, with a generous selection of Italian reds and whites. We chose a Super Tuscan "Corbaia" 1997 by Bossi. This turned out to be a full bodied and fruity red, with a wonderful bouquet, and a substantially long finish. It was a delightful discovery which we greatly enjoyed. Trudi has added it to our "We Have To Get More of This Wine" list. The "Corbaia" was $35 for a half bottle, which I thought was reasonable in a city where many restaurant wines come with three digit price tags.

Petrarca Cucina E Vino offers many of their best wines in half bottles, which I think is a smart marketing move. It allows diners to sample wines that might normally be out of their price range, and thus to increase their wine experience. It also increases the inventory turn for the higher priced wines, which can tie up a lot of a restaurant's cash.

During our meal, I spoke with Giorgio Conte, the Manager. He was trained as a sommelier. His talent and passion were clearly evident in the quality of the wine selection.

One thing that I don't enjoy about many restaurants is the wine glasses. Many are thick, clunky containers, without the full bow that allows you to fully appreciate a wine's bouquet. They look like they are designed more to survive hundreds of dishwashings than to optimize the wine tasting experience. This restaurant, to their credit, served our wine in the same quality wine glasses that we use at home. I give them high marks for this!

Petrarca Cucina E Vino also offers a Happy Hour from 4:30 PM to 7:00 PM on Monday through Friday. During this event, they offer 75 wines by the glass, and 350 wines by the bottle, an impressive number of choices for any New York restaurant!

For my entree, I chose Fettuccine Alla Bolognese, ($17.50) which was fettuccine with a red meat sauce. The portion was generous and the meat sauce melted in my mouth! It was so good that I wound up eating the entire portion.

Trudi opted for Pollo Paillard, ($17.50) which was grilled chicken with arugula, tomato, and onions. The chicken was juicy, with a nice caramelized glaze that blended perfectly with the vegetable topping. Trudi has traveled to Italy for over 20 years on business. She said that her chicken dish was as good as any meal she had in "The Old Country".

Vicki selected Penne Al Tonno, ($17.50) which was penne with fresh tuna, tomatoes, black olives, and capers. The chef was successful in broiling the fish into "The Perfect Tuna Zone". I define this as the degree of "doneness" where the outside has a delicious crust while the inside is cooked enough to take the raw taste out of the fish - but not so much that it loses the succulent texture that makes sushi so delicious.

We were also served wonderful Italian bread, with extra virgin olive oil.

No Italian meal is complete without a cup of cappuccino. Petrarca Cucina E Vino's offering was well prepared, and provided an enjoyable conclusion to our meal.

As far as service, our waiter was attentive, but not intrusive - a rare commodity in New York restaurants! In many places, you either can't find your waiter for half an hour, or they are hovering around you like a nervous puppy.

Very good food, an excellent selection of wines, and reasonable prices. Combined with a relaxed dining atmosphere and good service, I give Patrarca Cucina E Vino - 5 Bananas. I will recommend it to all of my primate friends!

The Monkey Prose Restaurant Rating System goes from 0 Bananas (It makes Army food look good.) to 5 Bananas (An exceptional dining experience.)


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