'inoteca? Check.

My restaurant "to do" list is never-ending. This is by no means a bad thing, but there just aren't enough meals in a day and days in a week to get to every spot on there. My wallet and waistline would also be less than thrilled if I ate every single meal out just to cross restaurants off my list.

There has been one on there for a few months now...'inoteca. Well, it really was on there as Bar Milano. But, the Denton brothers decided to close Bar Milano, and re-open it as an 'inoteca like their other two locations downtown. When I was put in charge of planning a dinner with some friends, 'inoteca popped in my mind immediately!

AM, LR, CD, and I went last Wednesday night...and despite the host on the phone making it seem like reservations were hard to come by, there were a handful of tables open the entire time we were there. (Just a quick tip - I originally tried to make a reservation through OpenTable, but they had nothing available between 5:45 and 10:15. When that happens, always call the restaurant and double-check.)

When we looked over the menu, we quickly realized that it was all in Italian (how authentic!)...and tried to figure out what was what. We asked our server to help us decipher everything, and she began to answer each of our questions, and also pointed out that on the back of the wine list was a glossary with definitions/descriptions of only some of the menu items. What?! Some of you may disagree with me on this one...but seems like the restaurant could find better ways to have the servers spend their time than translating most of the menu to the customers over and over again, night after night. I personally don't think it would take away from the authenticity or the Italian vibe if they had descriptions next to the less obvious menu items. But alas, we figured it all out and placed our order. We decided to order a lot of different dishes to get a taste of as many dishes as possible.

We started with the insalata di verdure di primavera. This was a small salad made up of fresh, Spring vegetables including ramps (finally got to try them!), peas, asparagus, pearl onions, carrots, and mint. The light dressing complimented the light flavor of all of the vegetables really well. I would definitely recommend avoiding eating a whole leaf of mint, though...not very pleasant.

In addition to the salad, we also started off with five bruschette: fagioli, tapenade, fig marscapone, pepperonata, caponata - also known as cannellini beans, olive spread, fig and marscapone cheese (ok that was straightforward!), stewed red peppers, and marinated eggplant. Each one was absolutely delicious and so full of flavor, but I definitely liked the pepperonata the best.

For the second round, we started with a panini, with fontina, truffle oil, spinach, mushroom. This thing was absolutely outrageous. The fontina was delicious, but what really took this thing over the top was of course the truffle oil. The bread was perfectly crunchy and provided a nice contrast to the cooked spinach and mushroom inside.

Next up was the lasagnette di melanzane, which our server described as a lasgana with thin slices of eggplant instead of noodles. The tomato sauce was so flavorful, and the fresh riccota on top was a nice touch.

To round out the entrees, we had the baked maccheroncini, which we thought was maybe a fancy version of mac & cheese. Wrong! Only thing similar about it was that it was small pasta and that there was cheese in it. But, in this dish, the pasta was served with zucchini, squash, tomatoes, a tomato sauce, and mozzarella. The garlicky flavor was so good and the tomato sauce had a lighter, tangy flavor to it, rather than a classic red sauce.

We couldn't resist trying some of the desserts, so we ordered an affogato and a Nutella panino. The affogato was a glass with two scoops of vanilla ice cream that were "drowned" in espresso at the table. I'm not a big coffee fan, but this was so delicious. The only disappointing part of the entire meal was the Nutella panino...and that is coming from someone who loves all things Nutella. There were two TINY triangles of panini with an even TINIER amount of Nutella spread in between the slices of bread. The two triangles side by side were probably the size of a credit card. After having a big panini during the main course, I expected this dessert portion to be a decent size too. Not so much.

In many recent meals, I've started to notice one thing that is quickly becoming a huge dining pet peeve of mine...the servers and busboys constantly coming by asking to clear your plates even when there are a few bites left, or clearing a tiny piece of the straw wrapper off the table. I just want to eat in peace and not to have to shift around so people can reach around me to grab things. I'm pretty sure that 'inoteca and all other restaurants do not have a shortage of plates and silverware that they need to be cleared and taken back to be washed immediately. And, I'd rather have a straw wrapper on my table than have a server's arm reach around my head to reach for it. Ok, just had to get that off my chest!!!

I guess it's tough to expect everything to be perfect when we ordered seven different dishes and when the waitstaff is still somewhat new. But, despite these small missteps, the meal and overall dining experience were fantastic. I may have finally been able to cross 'inoteca off my "to do" list, but would have no problem adding it back on to try some of the other dishes, or try 'inoteca's other locations.

323 Third Avenue
@ 24th Street
Menu Pages listing