My birthday is at the end of June, and, because of my incredible love for food, my boyfriend knew he needed to pick an amazing place. He succeeded. I’d wanted to go to Torrisi Italian Specialties for the past year and a half. It’s very hard to get a reservation for a decent time (read: not 5:30 or 10:00PM), and the two times I did manage to snag a coveted reservation, I ended up needing to cancel because of work. Well, my boyfriend did what I could not, and we were seated at Torrisi at 7:30PM. Now, there are a couple of things to know right off the bat, one I was aware of, the other I was not. First, Torrisi has a tasting menu. You get an assortment of antipasti, choice of pasta, choice of entree and choice of dessert. The current menu is different than what was on the list when we dined, but it still looks delicious. The second thing to know is that their wine list is only domestic wine. That may not be a problem for many, but I only know Italian, Argentinian and Spanish wines, so it threw me for a loop.
The antipasti at Torrisi is actually the reason I initially wanted to go. Their mozzarella is pulled to order and served warm with a sprinkle of sea salt and a fruity olive oil. I was so excited about this dish, and it definitely did not disappoint. Plus, because the mozz is warm, it stretches forever, which made the 5 year old in me all too giddy. The pea dish is served with fresh peas, a cream, pea puree and a variety of herbs. It is light and so fresh that you know everything was picked sometime the same day. We were also served a salmon tartar with salmon roe. My boyfriend never had roe before and was pleasantly impressed. There’s also a nice creme fraiche served on top of the tartar, and it balances well with the salty fish. My favorite antipasti though, by far (even beating the mozz!!!), was the charcuterie. This was no ordinary charcuterie. It was basically sausage and peppers, but presented like a pate. You eat it on top of the perfectly charred bread, with the olive oil seeping into the crevices, and you are transported to heaven for 10 minutes.
The pastas we could choose from were either a gnocchi with fava beans and brown butter or homemade linguini with clams. We got one of each. While the linguini was good, I am not a lover of clams so I found it so-so; I was, however, thrilled with my gnocchi. Usually gnocchi is heavy and weighs you down, in fact the only place I have had gnocchi where this did not happen was Nica Trattoria at 84th and 2nd (amazing, btw. It will have its own post). The gnocchi at Torrisi was like a cloud. It melted in my mouth. The great thing about Torrisi is they keep things simple. I bet the dish had 6 ingredients total, and because of that everything popped. The butter sauce had a bit of cracked pepper and was toasted to the wonderful nuttiness people love about brown butter, and the fava beans had a bit of give, but not too much. Delicious.
While I won with the pasta, my boyfriend beat me with the entree. When there is steak on a menu it is my default. I like a nice charred, medium rare piece of meat more than almost anything. So, our entree choices were Steak Diane, my mom’s favorite, or monkfish with a lemon mustard sauce. We got both, again. I think advertising the steak as Steak Diane was the first problem. The dish is traditionally made with a peppercorn/brandy/cream sauce and garlic, shallots and mushrooms. While there was a sauce on my dish, it was not reminiscent of the sauce I just described. I am all for taking a traditional dish and putting a new twist on it, but this sauce lacked flavor and complexity and was definitely not a modernized Steak Diane accompaniment. Plus, the meat wasn’t seasoned enough. I was shocked and a bit saddened by this. My boyfriend’s monkfish, however, was superb. Monkfish is a more oily fish, like Chilean Sea Bass, so it usually never dries out. But, not only was his fish perfectly tender and moist, it also was crusted with crisp potato and served with an extremely flavorful lemon mustard sauce. He was willing to switch the dish with the steak but, as I was a bit too selfish with the gnocchi, I wouldn’t let him.
Onto dessert! Between the dinner and dessert we were given homemade Italian ice. It had bits of lemon in it and was served in those paper cups that I remember getting from the ice stand in Elizabeth, NJ when I was a kid and my grandpa took me for a treat. It was the perfect start. I ordered the rainbow cake, which is like those yellow/pink/green Italian cookies in a cake form. Usually those cookies are gross, because they’re made incorrectly (not with almond paste) and are hard and dry. If made well, however, the cookie is super soft and moist, like a pignoli cookie. The cake was a great rendition of the cookie, and I loved it. My boyfriend got the lemon cake. I am not usually a lemon-in-my-dessert person, but this had the same fresh-squeezed feel of the ice and we devoured that as well.