The most common question I'm asked during my travels is: “What's your favorite Italian restaurant in New York City?” Obviously this question has been answered in a number of ways. However, I find myself recommending one place in particular recently, and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit it and make sure it was worth all the hype I've been giving it. You know what? It is worth the hype and not only that; it's even better than I remember. My current favorite Italian restaurant in New York City is… i Trulli.
Located at 122 E. 27th Street between Park and Lexington Avenue, i Trulli was opened in 1994 by Nicola Marzovilla. The idea was to create a fine dining Italian restaurant with a foundation built around the foods of his native region, Apulia. The master behind these culinary creations is Chef Patti Jackson. I must say that my hat is off to her, as I don't remember the last time I have seen an entire table of guests so enamored with each and every course served to them.
i Trulli offers dinner and lunch menus as well as a third menu in their enoteca-styled dining room, which includes a wood-burning oven and a station where the items from this menu are prepared in view of their customers. A second room serves as the perfect backdrop of fine dining done in all hard wood, with elegant table settings and a glass-encased wine cellar in view. Lastly, there’s a spacious out-door garden area, which succeeds in helping you forget you’re sitting in the middle of New York City. The garden transports your imagination to an Italian villa done in earth tones with painted murals, hanging plants and a small waterfall.
The wine list represents a wonderful selection of wines from all over Italy with spotlights on a number of iconic producers. It ranges from daily quaffers to big Baroli with pedigree and age. Not to mention, whether you're looking for a bargain wine or a trophy, there are deals to be found as you peruse the list. On the high end, one of my favorite all-time bottles – the 1996 Vietti Rocche at $240 – may seem expensive to some, but it is a great price for a bottle that's often impossible to come by these days at retail. On this occasion, I decided to go with the 2001 San Leonardo IGT, a bottle that averages between $55 - $65 dollars at retail, yet is listed at $110 on their list. Consider the typical mark-up on wine at a restaurant, and you can do the math.
To get the full experience, my party opted to go with i Trulli's “A Taste of Puglia” 15th anniversary menu. This consisted of a five-course tasting experience that cost $48 a person. While looking through the menu, we also found another dish that tempted our palates – the Malloreddus – and so we decided to have that served family-style with our meal.
“A Taste of Puglia” Celebrating i Trulli’s 15th Anniversary
Panzerotti – A mix of Pugliese baby calzones. One was filled with tomato and mozzarella, and the other with olives and scallions. They were perfectly crisp and rich as we bit through the dough to find a mix of tantalizing flavors. My favorite of the two was the olive and scallion, which was very unique and showed intense earthy flavors against the backdrop of the rich, crispy dough.
Burrata – An Apulian cheese with Puntarelle salad. The cheese was creamy and earthy with a semi-sharp bite that was tempered by the bitterness of the greens, simple yet perfect in its simplicity.
Orecchietti – Ear-shaped pasta in a rabbit ragu. This is a dish that I've had at i Trulli before, and I had to come back to sample again. You can taste the freshness of the Orecchietti pasta. As for the ragu, there’s no shortage of meat, which is succulent and full of character, along with spicy ripe tomato flavors and fresh herbs. This is a dish that makes me long for simpler days, long ago, when my own grandmother would prepare feasts at our Sunday dinner table.
Malloreddus – Sardinian saffron dumplings with sausage and tomato was the show-stealing plate of the night. The potato dumplings were like velvet pillows on your tongue as they melted away against the rich, spicy sausage and saffron flavors of the sauce. Honestly, this dish alone is worth the visit to i Trulli. It's unique, it's thought provoking… I would go as far as saying that it's sexy. (Let me remind you that this is not part of the 15th anniversary menu. I added this to our meal when I was seduced by it's description on the menu)
Agnello – Roasted lamb chops, fave e cicoria, potato tiella. These were perfectly cooked, seasoned and juicy lamb chops. Does it really need anything else? You would think not, until you bit into the cheesy potato tiella, which set off the gamey flavors of the meat and made for a great palate cleanser that kept the lamb interesting. One repeating theme I find at i Trulli is their ability to pair adverse flavors that keep you wanting more.
Pulpo (An alternative to the Agnello) – Grilled octopus, black chickpeas and scarola salad. This was so fresh that it practically melted in my mouth and it was grilled to perfection with a light smokiness and crisp to the skin. The Scarola salad was a perfect match with its bold earthy, savory flavors.
Cartellatte – Traditional honey dipped cookies with melon parfait. This consisted of rich and creamy vanilla bean custard with shaved pieces of iced honeydew, which gave it a refreshing, light feel and topped with a crisp, light, honey dipped cookie. Need I say more?
As dinner came to a close I looked around the table and saw nothing but happy faces. I don’t remember the last time I have been so satisfied with a meal, and I was unable to think of a single thing that I could list as a negative. At $48, the 15th anniversary tasting menu is an amazing value in fine dining. The wine list leaves nothing to be desired, and if you must bring your own bottle, $25 corkage fee will cover you.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention that i Trulli also owns a wine store, Vino, located across the street from the restaurant, which specializes in Italian wines, but has also recently started carrying wines from all around the world. A stop at i Trulli would not be complete without browsing these shelves for some Italian gems. What’s more is that any bottle purchased from Vino can be brought to the restaurant to enjoy with lunch (between 12:00 – 3:00 pm) on Saturdays and Sundays without having to pay any corkage. I can’t think of a better deal in wine and food.
The cold hard facts
Service: Impeccable. Knowledgeable staff that is attentive yet never in the way.
The Food: Southern Italian. Outstanding, perfection in simplicity, great attention to details, excellent pairing of items on each plate, aggressive yet refreshing to the palate and quite unique.
My Cost: $48 for a five-course menu that left me completely satisfied. Excellent value.
Location: 122 E. 27th Street between Park and Lexington Avenue
Website: i Trulli
My picks from the wine list:
By the glass: Orsolani, Caluso Spumante Cuvee Tradizione 2004 $14
Value bottle: Schola Sarmenti, Negroamaro Roccamora 2006 $38
Mid range bottle: De Conciliis,Paestum Aglianico Naima 2004 $120 (0r) San Leonardo IGT 2001 $110
High end bottle: Vietti, Barolo Rocche 1996 $240
If I could change one thing, I would ask that the sommelier add an upgrade option to their tasting menu that would add a wine pairing to each course.
The 2001 San Leonardo IGT, showed black cherries with chestnut, undergrowth, animal musk, and a bit of greenness, which did not detract but instead added an earthy element to the aromatics. One the palate, it presented a medium bodied wine with perfect balance as more cherries, cranberries and cocoa showed through. The finish was finessed with red fruit and left the palate refreshed.
To find this wine on Wine-Searcher, click here!