Wednesday, June 10, 2009

For Good Noodles, Go "to the Republic for which It Stands"

As the expression goes, time flies when you're having fun - especially when a lot of that time is spent eating your way through the Big Apple! Last week marked the 6th anniversary of me moving to NYC - hard to believe it's been that long. Six years ago, MP and I arrived a few weeks after graduation, with no job and no real place to live. We had 10 weeks in the NYU dorms to get our lives figured out. But, before we dove straight into job hunting, we wanted to celebrate our first night in the city.

Since this was pre-Miss Menu, we wandered over to Union Square and looked around for a restaurant, and ended up at Republic. Right then and there, I declared to MP that a tradition should be started of returning to Republic every June 1st to celebrate our anniversary. It seemed really cheesy at the time, but 6 years later, I always look forward to this dinner!
This year, we walked downtown to Republic on an iffy day weather-wise, but hoped to score a table out front. Lucky for us, there were two open when we arrived, and we were seated right away. The tables outside are pretty cramped, but if you've ever dined inside the restaurant, you know there's a good chance that you'll be seated at a table with total strangers. So, I'll take the former option any day!

Although I'm usually not one to order the same dish every time I go to a restaurant, I do so at Republic. Guess it's part of the tradition! As usual, I got #31
- Pad Thai, with rice noodles, chicken, bean sprouts, egg strips, garlic,carrots, scallions...hold the peanuts. The menu has some interesting appetizers and salads, but I love their pad thai, so there was no messin' around.

The flavor was great, with just the right amount of heat. On some occasions, the chicken has been somewhat overcooked and flavorless, but this year, it was moist and flavorful. They always go a little overboard with the bean sprouts, but it adds such a nice crunch to the dish. The portion was huge, but it was hard for me to put the chopsticks down!

MP changed it up this year and went with #21 - Chicken broth noodles, with glass noodles, shredded chicken, watercress, bean sprouts, wood ear mushrooms, and shallots. She thought it was a great flavor, but heavy on the salt...and that the watercress was a little too bitter.

If you are looking for super-authentic noodle bowls, Republic is not for you. It's more of a trendy take on a classic. Apparently the restaurant has caught wind of that and hiked its prices since last year. A bowl of pad thai for $13 is no bargain. It was definitely more like $8 when we started going there. But, I guess that's the price you pay for livin' in the big city!

We weren't sure if it was because the waitress was so crazed, or if it's just more relaxed dining al fresco, but we weren't rushed out at all. Usually they will drop the check off before you ask for it and hover waiting for you to get up from your table. But, we were able to enjoy the nice weather and reminisce about all the crazy adventures we've each had and those we've shared in the past 6 years. It's been a wild, fantastic ride, and I can't wait to see what else is in store for me, for us, and for Miss Menu!

37 Union Square West
b/t 16th & 17th Streets
Menu Pages listing

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

You Can Bet on Bettola!

Last week, MP invited me to join her parents and her for dinner. I was really excited to see them, and also excited to be relieved of restaurant selecting duties! They picked Bettola on the Upper West Side. On a stretch of Amsterdam that is almost solid restaurants, I almost walked into the wrong one...and MP's parents actually did. The tiny lettering on the awnings makes it a little tricky!

Inside is a warm, cozy atmosphere with exposed brick walls and dim lighting. The wood-burning oven is definitely the focal point featured dead center at the back of the small dining space - as is the Italian flag.

We looked over the menu, and oohed and ahhed over a lot of the dishes. I knew I definitely wanted pizza, especially from a wood-burning oven. We were all interested in the same dishes, so we ended up sharing a bunch of things.

We started with two Insalata Di Farro with seasonal greens, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was pretty straightforward, and a nice start to the meal. MP ordered the zuppa del journo, which was a carrot, celery, and onion puree. It was a pretty crazy color of orange, but had a great flavor. And, it was even better with focaccia from the bread basket dipped in it.

We decided to order three pizzas to share, and figured with 4 slices in each, it would be the perfect amount for the four of us! First up was the Regina Margherita, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil. To me, margherita pizzas are the perfect kind of pie...simple, flavorful, and delicious. The tomato sauce was bold and tangy, and there was the perfect amount of cheese. As with all of the pizzas, the crust was crispy without being too dried out.
The second one was the Salute made with whole wheat dough with grilled and roasted vegetables. The variety of veggies was nice...I think I spotted zucchini, eggplant, onions, mushrooms, and red peppers. But, there was entirely too much rosemary...completely overwhelming the entire pizza. It was definitely still edible, but it would have been so much better if they went a little easy on the rosemary.

The third one was the Bianca, with mozzarella, parmigiano, mushrooms, and truffle oil. Between this pizza, and the panini I had recently at 'inoteca, I have officially become obsessed with truffle oil, especially when it is paired with a great melted cheese. This pizza was out of control good. It was at this point that I decided I wish I had the whole thing to myself! But, I was glad I was able to try two others, so I sucked it up and enjoyed my slice and a half! The mushrooms were tasty and the thick layer of the two cheeses were delish, but the star of this pie was obviously the truffle oil.

We went on the earlier side on a Wednesday night, and despite it being pretty empty when we arrived, the restaurant had definitely filled up by time we left. The service was good, although it was very hard to understand the server because her Italian accent was so heavy. How authentic!

There are dozens and dozens of great restaurants on the UWS. Menu Pages has 59 Italian restaurants listed in the neighborhood. But, if you're looking for a simple, relaxed setting for a great, Italian meal, I would definitely bet on Bettola!

412 Amsterdam Avenue
b/t 79th & 80th Streets
Menu Pages listing