Apps Only: 'inoteca

Apps Only

Seeking out the best bites for under $15 a head.

Editor's note: In "Apps Only," Ben Fishner will be eating his way through New York's appetizer, bar, and lounge menus as your guide to fine dining on a budget. He blogs at Ben Cooks Everything.

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Polpette from 'inoteca. [Photos: Ben Fishner]

I knew that when I went to 'inoteca to sample their small plates, I wouldn't have a problem cobbling together a meal; small plates are all that's on the menu here. That menu is expansive, with sections devoted to insalate, affettati, bruschette, fritti, piatti and more (it also comes with a glossary, a gesture that informs even as it makes you feel like you're doing homework). Whether we could eat for $15/person remained to be seen, though, so I stopped by with a couple of friends last week to find out.

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Grilled calamari insalata.

We started with an order of the Grilled Calamari insalata ($12), rings and tentacles of squid tossed with red peppers, celery, romaine and radicchio in a spicy vinaigrette. While the calamari itself would have benefitted from a little char from the grill, it was still perfectly cooked and there was plenty of it, and the vinaigrette was remarkably tasty.

The Panelle ($8), chickpea fritters, arrived at our table piping hot and served with lemon wedges. Crispy on the outside and soft inside, these are a hearty, warming snack that come alive when hit with a bit of the lemon wedge. They're a good deal, too, quite filling and substantial at eight bucks.

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Panelle, chickpea fritters.

'inoteca has an extensive bruschetta menu, with about ten options on any given day. We ordered a plate of three ($7), trying the noci, gorgonzola and fig, and fagiolo del giorno selections. The noci was a thick, dense hazelnut spread that was more peanut butter than Nutella: salty, delicious, and stuck to the roof of my mouth. The gorgonzola was delicious and pungent, cut beautifully by the macerated figs that topped it. The fagiolo del giorno on the day we dined was a garlicky white bean puree flavored with plenty of tarragon and Pecorino Romano. All three were tasty, but the white bean was my favorite--a humble ingredient made to stand out among more exotic selections. While seven dollars was a pretty good deal, the only drawback was that these were a little tricky to divvy up and share among the three of us. Still, we managed.

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Bruschetta plate. Clockwise from top: noci, fagiolo, gorgonzola and fig.

Finally, we shared an order of the Polpette ($12, pictured at top), three large meatballs served in an orange-scented tomato sauce. The meatballs are dense but still tender, and not overseasoned or dressed up with fancy mix-ins or toppings, which is how they succeed. The curveball here is the sauce, with its subtle orange flavor and plenty of onions. If you order this dish, be sure to ask for some bread to sop up all of that sauce and round out the meal.

'inoteca is an ideal location for this column; there was very little challenge in cobbling together our meal of small plates because, well, that's all that's on the menu here. That said, everything was delicious, and I'd return in an instant, if only to try more of the menu items here. In the end, we only spent $39 on dinner for three of us, well under the target price of $15 per person before tax and tip.

'inoteca

98 Rivington Street, New York NY 10002 (map) 212-614-0473
inotecanyc.com