The Vegetarian Option: Splendid Vegetable Dishes at L'Artusi
It seems like you can throw a stone in the West Village and hit a dozen mediocre Italian restaurants. But there are a few great ones, including L'Artusi. We here at Serious Eats are big fans of the restaurant, which is run by Dell'Anima restaurateur Joe Campanale. L'Artusi can be a bit of a scene; my dinner took place after 10 PM on a Friday night and the party was seemingly just getting started. But our meal featured some truly great Italian cuisine, an interesting mix of rustic and refined.
Appetizers are on the expensive side, and though many of the dishes seem vegetarian at first glance, a closer look reveals otherwise. Chicory is coated in an anchovy dressing, and the roasted mushrooms are served with pancetta. The contorni ($8 each), on the other hand, represent some great seasonal fare. The summer squash (pictured above) was sautéed briefly and tossed with tiny halved tomatoes and chiles, a great mix of sweet and sour flavors.
Even better were the crispy potatoes. Wonderfully crunchy, and salty on the outside, creamy on the inside, the potatoes were served alongside a "salsa bianco"—in this case an intriguing, creamy sauce of crème fraîche, freshly grated horseradish, and minced shallots. The potatoes never knew what hit them.
Perhaps the most rustic of the bunch, and my favorite of the night, were the charred market beans. The perfectly seasoned mix of string and wax beans came charred and tossed with lemon and chiles. If you've ever cooked string beans, you know how hard it can be to season them properly, but the chefs at L'Artusi have it figured out. Finished with a generous drizzle of olive oil, I could eat these beauties like popcorn.
Sadly, my pasta entrée didn't live up to the promise delivered by the crudo. Maybe it was because we were there so late, but the mezzaluna ($17) were a little too al dente. The promised sweet corn filling was not quite sweet, and was not quite puréed enough: I ended up picking bits of corn from between my teeth. And as the old joke goes, the portion was so small: a mere five mezzaluna for the money seems downright miserly. The dish wasn't bad, just not as good as I had expected.
The dining room at L'Artusi is large and loud; the open kitchen gleams with stainless steel; the service is relaxed but attentive. When we explained to our server that we wanted the crudo as appetizers, followed by the entrées, he exclaimed, "I like it!" I like it too, quite a bit. The next time I'm called upon to recommend a fun restaurant where the food is actually good, L'Artusi will be the first name that comes to mind.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.