Tuesday, August 10, 2010
East River Cafe - Old Fashioned Italian Never Goes Out of Style
N/R/4/5/6 Train to 59th and Lexington
Always in the mood to explore a new restaurant, my friend Bo and I dined at a traditional Italian eatery called East River Cafe on the Upper East Side. We were invited to a tasting and were of course excited to sample a wide variety of Italian goodies including pasta, seafood and desserts.
What I found interesting about East River's history is that it's actually owned by an Egyptian gentleman whose grandmother ironically only cooked Italian food. I found that to be a neat story and was looking forward to trying an Egyptian take on Italian cuisine.
Even though East River Cafe isn't a new restaurant, it's been refurbished on the inside with modern chairs and tables that make you feel comfortable, but also with nostalgic decor elements such as black and white photographs, mirrors and lanterns that bring you back to another time. The music is what really did it for me - jazz classics and slow ballads that transport you to a time when going out to eat was glamorous and people dressed up to do it.
We arrived early enough that the place wasn't crowded - we saw a few couples enjoying a romantic meal, but East River also has larger round tables suitable for bigger groups. I loved that the front-of-the-house windows opened up, allowing us to enjoy the warm summer breeze outside as well as the lively activity on 1st avenue.
We tried a little bit of everything - fresh veggies, a pasta course, seafood and dessert. There's a lot to choose from and I think East River does a good job of accommodating different palates - from serious meat eaters to vegetarians.
Insalata ai Lamponi - We were in the mood for something healthy and refreshing and our eyes automatically veered to this summer salad with arugula, fresh raspberries, feta cheese and a coating of lemon vinaigrette. It was a perfect way to start a multi-course meal. I especially loved how the sweet raspberries offset the salty feta cheese--the combination working beautifully to satisfy your immediate hunger but still exciting the palate for more things to come.
Pomodori Gnocchi - Being a huge fan of gnocchi, I was excited to see the amazing variety that was offered at East River Cafe. While I've already tried several combinations on the menu at other restaurants, what stood out to me most was the gnocchi pomodori, with pesto, brie cheese and cream sauce. I've never had brie in a gnocchi dish and the prospect of it was very exciting. Overall, we loved these soft, delicious mounds, which were made out of potatoes and tomatoes (hence, the "pomodori"). It was evident that they were homemade due to their light texture, which softened the rich flavors of the cream sauce. The brie was gentle but definitely evident and if you're a cheese lover, you'll appreciate it.
Salmone in Crosta di Patate alla Senape - Even though the name of this dish sounds fancy, it wasn't uber sophisticated, yet it was very delicious. Consisting of decadently moist salmon wrapped in a thin layer of potato, resting on a bed of dijon mustard sauce, I thought this dish was scrumptious. It's not one that I ordered but will definitely have to next time around. While the color of the mustard sauce was off-putting, don't be misled by it because the flavors are just right.
Cannolis - A classic Italian dessert, we were curious as to how it'd measure up at East River Cafe. While I'd say that the cannoli shell was crispy, light and excellent, the filling needed some help and maybe additional vanilla bean flavor. I also would've liked the cannoli cream to be colder, as I love the taste of a rich, chilled custard.
Service and Cost:
Our server was confident and respectful and I loved that he had a clear command of the menu. Even though we were on a tasting, he wasn't over-attentive, which I appreciated and thought it added authenticity to our experience.
Costs are moderate and include:
Appetizers - $6 - $14
Pasta & Gnocchi - $12 -$20
Pizza - $9 - $14
Entrees - $16 - $26