Sunday, December 20, 2009

Il Punto - Good, Reliable Italian Kitchen

Il Punto -  507-509 9th Avenue, New York NY 10018
E Train to 34th Street

Meg and I got invited to sample the cuisine of another cozy Italian eatery - last time we ventured to Ornella and this time to Il Punto, a classic Italian restaurant in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen.  We enjoyed ourselves, as usual, and would happily come back, especially before going to see a Broadway show perhaps.

Il Punto has an old-fashioned, comfortable feel, which I like and which is enjoyable to walk into on a cold, blistering night.  I love how warm and toasty it is, both in temperature and in feeling.  There's a nice Christmas tree out front, welcoming you, and we had the pleasure of sitting at a table where we could see it perfectly. 

There's a bar in front, which is somewhat separated from the main dining room.  At first, the space seems limited, but after looking around a bit, I saw there's another, large dining room adjoined to the main one.  It seems more private and quiet, maybe the place to sit if you'd like a more romantic setting.

I was pleasantly surprised by the food, as I didn't know what to expect.  Despite the fact that this is a more traditional restaurant, I found some of the dishes inventive and cosmopolitan.

Appetizers - All of my dining companions ordered the special of the day, which was a beautifully sliced prosciutto di parma plate, accompanied by milky fresh mozzarella, basil and roasted red peppers.  It was a great dish that met everyone's approval.  I had a taste of Lisa's and loved the salty prosciutto, especially when coupled with the sweet roasted red peppers. 

For my appetizer, I went for the pera salad, consisting of poached pears in red wine and cinnamon, served with peppery arugula, walnuts, gorgonzola cheese and my favorite, bacon.  It was divine and for a sweet-tooth addict like me, it was a treat.  The hint of cinnamon in the red wine reduction was a nice, spicy touch but it wasn't overbearing.  Fat crumbles of gorgonzola cheese were another selling point for me and there was just enough of it to add a yummy, sharp tang. 

Pasta Course - The timballo, Il Punto's signature pasta dish came highly recommended, so we ordered one generous portion, and split it between all of us.  It was an automatic winner with everyone, made up of layers of wide pasta, bechamel sauce, meat ragu and parmigiano cheese.  It reminded me of a cross between lasagna and moussaka--I loved how rich and creamy it was, and the fact that we shared it made it easy to finish.

Entrees - We each ordered different entrees and tried everything.  Mine was the red snapper filet, served in parchment paper with fresh herbs, snow peas, zucchini, rosemary, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.  The presentation (pictured above) was gorgeous and because it was steamed in parchment made it feel more healthful.  The fish itself was light, and despite its generous size, it didnt' leave you feeling overly stuffed.

I also tried my dining companions' dishes including turkey ossobucco, which was good but I preferred the classic version, containing veal or lamb.  The chicken on the bone with garlic, rosemary and lemon juice was nice and hearty--slightly acidy from the white wine reduction, which I liked.  And the veal special of the day, was juicy and enormous, with plenty of veggies such as peppers, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms.

Dessert - As usual, I'm not sure how we managed to get dessert, but there were a couple things that were passed around--crostata frutta di bosco, a classic apple tart and a chocolate cake with berries. Out of those, the crostata frutta di bosco was my favorite, which was a small buttery pastry shell, filled with decadent custard cream, topped with fresh fruit such as blueberries and strawberries.  I liked this dessert so much because it juxtaposed richness with freshness, creating a luxurious but not overly indulgent dessert.

Service and Cost:
The service at Il Punto was excellent - everything came out of the kitchen in good time and it was nice and warm.  Our servers knew their stuff from the wine to the pasta, from the entrees to the dessert.  I liked that the chef came out and made his rounds, saying hello to customers and ensuring that everyone was happy.  He seemed to be jolly and pleasant, and it was nice to put a friendly face to the delicious food.

Costs are moderate for Manhattan, and I'd say they're affordable if you're looking for pre-theater dining.

Appetizers: $10-$15
Pasta: $15-$18
Entrees: $18-$25

3-course pre and post theater prix-fixe $30 per person.

2.5 Mmmms

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