|Waiting outside in the cold at Torrisi Italian Specialties|
Last night, on a really cold Friday night, we finally checked out Torrisi Italian Specialties and it was definitely one of the better meals we've had in New York. It's a sandwich place by day serving antipasti by the pound, sandwiches like chicken parm and house roasted turkey and I've heard the eggplant parm is great too, and then at night, it's a tiny restaurant with only about 20 seats I think. They have three seatings each night, don't take reservations, and people start lining up sometime after 5 to put their names in to snag a table. The $50 prix fixe menu changes daily with whatever the chefs/owners Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone want to cook that day. It made lots of best of 2010 lists and I've been curious about it, checking the menu occasionally whenever I thought about it just to see what they were cooking up that day.
On a whim yesterday, thinking about how cold it was out and that maybe the cold would deter a crazy line of people, I checked out the website to see what their menu was that day. I was intrigued by their "Sweetbreads Nha Trang" - indicating a Vietnamese take on sweetbreads. I emailed Rick to see if he wanted to check it out and we decided to brave the cold. We headed over there at about 5:30p and there were only a few people ahead of us but in about 5 minutes there were lots more behind us. They start taking reservations at 5:45p but I think with the cold, they felt bad making people wait outside so came out early and took people's names just a bit earlier.
They serve a few beers, a few wines by the glass, and a selection of bottles and half bottles of wine. We decided to go ahead and do the wine pairing, which started with a glass of sparkling wine they kept filled through all the antipasti dishes. Unfortunately, I didn't keep track of all the wines they served but I thought they all went really well with everything - in addition to the sparkling wine, there was an albarino, the red was a cabernet sauvignon, there was another white and a lovely dessert wine.
The meal started with a fresh warm ball of mozzarella and a little piece of garlic herb bread - so simple and so good. Then some roasted cauliflower with a dried scallop vinaigrette (maybe those dried scallops from bins in Chinatown?) with olive oil and lemon came out. The next dish was a little thin, folded omelette with black beans, cilantro pesto and a bright tomato kind of thing underneath that really made the dish work, and then there was the sweetbreads Nha Trang - crisp and sauced nuggets of sweetbreads over a salad with lettuce, mint and onions similar to a Vietnamese goi, though it probably would have worked better with cabbage like a traditional goi than lettuce as the lettuce didn't have much texture to it. We overhead a waiter ask the table two tables over if anyone wanted the last of the sweetbreads, which they turned down - there were a few nuggets of goodness still sitting there and Rick joked with the waiter that if anyone else didn't want their sweetbreads to send them on over to our table!
The pasta dish was a fusilli with their "dirty" duck ragu - a ragu with braised duck and duck livers and probably some other duck organ meats chopped up in there. It was great and a nice little portion and I loved tasting the little bits of liver. They served this with an albarino that went nicely with it.
So the only option you have for the meal is which entree you want - we got one of each and liked them both. There was a pan-fried sole with a marsala sauce and thinly shaved fresh white mushrooms - it was really crispy with that hint of sweetness from the marsala, and it was scattered with some parsley, and celery leaves which added a nice freshness. I loved the scent of the celery leaves throughout the dish. The other entree was a few slices of seared duck breast over broccoli rabe. The skin was nice and crispy, the duck was cooked well, and I loved the broccoli rabe, though Rick doesn't quite share my love of the more bitter greens. He preferred the sole but still liked them both, and I'm not sure I could decide what was better - they were obviously so different.
After the entrees, we got a little lemon Italian ice, which was very refreshing, and then came the cookie plate. I'm not one that is so into cookies and all but they were all really fantastic - little Italian cookies and cannoli filled with ricotta and orange. The cannoli was probably definitely the best I have ever had, nice and crispy and the filling was lovely. The others included a butter or sugar cookie filled with hazelnut chocolate, those colored layered cake-like cookies with stripes of read and green and coated with a little chocolate, and few others. They all were all great and the dessert wine they served alongside them was really nice.
It sounds like there are some dishes they serve regularly - the New York Times review mentions the fusilli with dirty duck ragu and the duck with broccoli rabe and mulberry mustard, and reading through yelp reviews, I saw a few other dishes mentioned a few times by different people. I checked the menu today just to see what they were serving for dinner tonight - while the entrees sounded the same, all the antipasti and the pasta have already changed, including some octopus and tripe, probably some of our favorite foods. I can't say that I'm not tempted to go again so soon :)