'inoteca on the Lower East Side recently introduced an expanded menu, with a wide variety of pastas and other Italian-inspired entrées. While checking it out over the past few weeks I've come to discover that lunch is the best time to visit. Almost all of the same dinner menu items are available at lunch, plus some lunch-only exclusives, and the restaurant isn't crowded at all.
The truffled egg ($9) is an ideal way to start any meal. A large chunk of brioche is squared off, partially hollowed out, topped with cheese, and filled with a barely cooked egg. When you cut into it the egg yolk runs out beautifully, giving you something to smear your bread in as you eat. The only misstep is the pile of cold grilled asparagus underneath everything.
One of the lunch-only deals is a soup-of-the-day and panino for $15. The mushroom and farro soup was so full it was almost a stew; the mushrooms were meaty and the farro was chewy and comforting in a way. It was a great soup for a chilly, early winter day.
My server recommended the smoked mozzarella sandwich to accompany the soup. The smoky flavor on the mozzarella was not enough to overpower the delicate creamy flavor of the cheese, and the grilled zucchini was a nice match for it as well (though not particularly seasonal).
There are a few vegetarian pastas on the menu, but I only had eyes for the rigatonchini with cauliflower fondutta ($16). The fondutta, a thick, bechamel-like sauce, was saturated with the flavor of cauliflower. With the covering of crispy breadcrumbs, it made the dish seem like a grown-up macaroni and cheese.
I never visited 'inoteca before they upgraded their menu, but I'm glad now that they've done it. I am constantly asked for suggestions for nice places to eat downtown, and I can safely add 'inoteca to the list of recommendations. Lots of great food at reasonable prices, plus a lot of vegetarian options—what could be better?