Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto
283 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023 (b/n 73rd and 74th; map);212-877-4800
Service: Solicitous, eager to please
Setting: An understated storefront with an impressive display case, prosciutto legs hanging from the walls, a few tables and a counter facing the street
Compare It To: An Italian version of D'Espana
Must-Haves: 36 month-aged prosciutto di Parma, roasted beets, brussels sprouts, insalate pontormo, roasted acorn squash, leek tart
Cost: $25 for three small plates, a glass of wine, tax, and tip
Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto executive chef-partner Cesare Casella is one of those people who was put on Earth to feed people. A man of relentless good cheer, he walks around with a perpetual smile, herbs sticking out of his chef's coat pocket, always with a small plate of something he wants you to try.
He's always been like this, at his previous restaurants Beppe and Maremma, or even before that, when he was cooking for Pino Luongo at Coco Pazzo. But all those were full-on, full-priced restaurants, so they were not the right fit for Cesare's personality. On the other hand Salumeria Rosi, a joint venture with Italian cured meats purveyor Parmacotto, is the perfect fit. With its pristine display case full of hams, cheeses, and vegetables, shelves of handpicked imported Italian food, and a more than reasonably priced menu of small plates served in a small storefront dining room, Salumeria Rosi is a proper home for Cesare Casella's outsized Italian food personality.
What is Cesare feeding serious eaters these days?
The cured meats, from Parmacotto and a few handpicked U.S. purveyors like Salumeria Biellese and Creminelli, are very well curated (ha, ha). Ask head salumiere Aaron Oster or anyone else at the counter for a prosciutto tasting, and you will have a blast. Hams are labeled and divided into two Italian-style categories: prosciutto cotto, or steamed, grilled, and roasted hams (ask for the prosciutto arrosto, which has been roasted for 18 hours, or the griglata, which has been rubbed with rosemary, sate, and oregano before being grilled for 14 hours), and prosciutto crudo, 24 month-old San Daniele and Parma, and a 36 month-old prosciutto de Parma that truly melts in your mouth. The Barolo salami from Creminelli is also worth a try. Don't be shy here. Ask for lots of tastes when you walk in the door and look over the counter, so when you do sit down you'll know what to be sure to include in your selezione del salumiere ($15-23), which is most assuredly a must-have here.
Simply prepared vegetables are the kitchen's strongest suit. How could simple, pristine slices of zucca arrosto, roasted acorn squash with olive oil and sea salt ($7), be so delicious.
Even avowed beet haters warm to the insalata di barbabietole ($5), roasted beets dressed with a shallot-chardonnay vinaigrette. And why not? They're perfect.
Sometimes Casella and company mix in a pork product or two with vegetables, and the results are usually mighty fine. Casella's signature insalate pontormo ($7), a mixed green salad topped by a soft, scrambled egg, has just enough pancetta to alert serious eaters to the presence of a porcine substance, but sometimes the scrambled are not as soft as advertised. Cavolini ($5), roasted brussels sprouts, get a similar flavor jolt from that same pancetta and just enough garlic. A simple leek tart is just a few inches in diameter, but it's full of big flavors, thanks to a little rendered pancetta fat, some Pecorino Romano, and a touch of cream.
Meat dishes are tasty but less inspired than the vegetables. Rovelline ($6), breaded pan-fried beef scallopine in a garlicky tomato sauce, tastes like a beefy Tuscan version of eggplant parmigiana. The costina ($6), spicy, slow-roasted Tuscan spare ribs with tomatoes, rosemary, and garlic, are tender and slightly stringy. Stracotto con polenta ($6), beef brisket braised in Chianti, is surprisingly under-flavored. It's not as good as my late Jewish grandmother's, but then again that's a mighty high bar she set.
Pastas, served in small portions in keeping with the prices here, are enhanced by whatever pork products are added to the individual preparations. The malloreddus all'amatriciana ($7) has lots of cured pork. The tasty Bolognese-style lasagna ($6) has the requisite rich bechamel sauce along with layers of pasta and a rich pork and beef-laced meat sauce.
Of the desserts, the pere in vino rosso ($5), poached pears are the killer. They're poached in Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and served with a scoop of creamy, ultra-smooth mascarpone.
In Salumeria Rosi, Cesare Casella has found the right vehicle. With reasonably priced small plates and a crew of equally passionate cohorts, he succeeds in doing what he's been trying to do ever since he arrived in New York seventeen years ago: to feed everyone seriously delicious Italian food in a blessedly informal setting. Moreover, Salumeria Rosi seems made to order for these times.
It's a welcoming, warm place that serious eaters can walk into to taste something soothing and satisfying and feel well taken care of without spending a fortune.