First of all, let’s get the name right. It’s SALLA MARIA RO SEE. And it’s well worth checking out especially if you’ve already trekked across or up town to go to the Lincoln Square movies or Lincoln Center. It’s a brief walk up Broadway, a left veer onto Amsterdam Avenue and there it sits at 283 Amsterdam Avenue just in the block after 73rd Street. (Tel: 212 877 4800 )
This tiny little place with just 35 seats is an amazing development for it’s Chef Proprietor, the highly notable and well-regarded Cesare Casella. What I didn’t realize when we started going to Salumeria Rosi is that I’ve been following Chef Casella all over town for years. From Coco Pazzo in the East 70s to Beppe on Restaurant Row on 22nd Street, I only missed going his “Maremma”, the relatively short-lived “Tuscan Cowboy” take in the village. But this incarnation should not be missed.
The restaurant is, to my eye, a salute to the genius of Italian design.
Everything says style from the place settings with rosemary sprigs tucked into the napkins to the bronzed walls and pin lighting. Unfortunately, I could not get a decent photo of the most extraordinary design feature which is an enormous bas-relief map of Italy which literally runs from the floor and across the ceiling. This Della Robbia-like piece shows all the regions of Italy and the food that comes from them.
I have a long and complicated relationship with Italian food. Italy is where I learned to love food as a student there in the late 60s. But once back in the States, there was a long period of time when nothing lived up to what I’d eaten in Rome or anywhere else we travelled in Italy.
Red sauce still dominated the landscape and it wasn’t until Pino Luongo arrived in New York that Northern Italian cooking really took off and came closer to tasting what I’d loved in Italy. Then there was Pasta and Cheese, the shop that introduced fresh pasta to New York and my little family to Tortalini Alfredo which became a Saturday night ritual in which I thought my son, Alex, might turn into a tortalino.
Then came the years when we shunned Italian food, so overwrought about carb counting and our expanding waistline that we mindlessly eschewed pasta altogether and therefore, virtually every Italian restaurant. It wasn’t until a particularly magical trip to Venice and Tuscany that we recognized the error of our ways: One incredible dish of seafood pasta and we were brought to our senses.
If ever a substance can evoke memories, it is surely food. And the very first time I set foot in Salumeria Rosi, I tasted mortadella that transported me back to Campo dei Fiori in Rome where, on an almost daily basis, I would trek to the local Salumeria and buy a panino stuffed with the pink, fat-speckled meat punctuated with slivers of pistachio nuts. I was 21 again which is an amazing feat for a restaurant to achieve.
The premise at Salumeria Rosi is simple. In partnership with a venerable and extremely well-known producer of cured meats, Parmacotta, Chef Casella offers diners ‘assaggi’ (‘tastes’ in Italian) of about 20 different meats. Those not from Parmacotta include a number sourced from American producers. What we do share is a opening platter of a “Selezione del Salumiere”. There are two sizes here. We opt for the $16.00 size for two, the $24.00 size when we’re more. This is a sampler of these meltingly delicious prosciuttos, speck and coppa and of course, the mortadella of my dreams.
In addition, the kitchen creates wonderful small plates, some of which include classic Casella inventions like octopus terrine and scrambled egg and pancetta salad. These are self-described on the restaurant’s website as Tuscan tapas. They’re a good value with most of them hovering around the $7.00 mark and none higher than $11.50. They say they are for sharing but I think that’s a stretch unless you are extremely light eater.
These‘assaggi della cucina’, all enthusiastically described by the young and very knowledgeable waitstaff. We haven’t a single thing we haven’t liked. Pictured here are three of the offerings:Pancia, crisp Pork belly cooked with beans and dandelion greens,a house made sausage, a special the last time we were there, in another rich tomato sauce. And finally Costina, a spicy spare rib in tomato, rosemary and garlic sauce.
Salumeria Rosi achieves at least two wonderful things. It allows you for a true taste of Italy without feeling that you’ve been stuffed. And, it transports you to a place where you honestly feel you’ve left New York for some tiny little find you stumbled into on your last trip to Italy. Lucky you.
Salumeria Rosi. 283 Amsterdam Avenue, NYNY 10023 212 877 4800.
We’ve not had a problem getting in, but due to its compact size and accessibility on http://www.opentable.com/