After a pretty good starter meal at Stanton Social, we made our way just down the block to ‘inoteca. It was a place that wasn’t on my New York list, but a place that Scott and Danielle said we should definitely check out since it was so close. And I’m always up for recommendations, especially given that I have no idea when I will be in New York again. Our timing couldn’t have been better as we arrived just as a table opened up (though we did miss happy hour).
Where Stanton Social was a little dark and throwback “loungy”, ‘inoteca was wide open and bright; literally…the side windows were slid open to the street. The bar was at the back of the restaurant, the patio dining to our right. The table we ended up at was right by the kitchen, and right next to the street, a pretty nice compromise actually. The volume and the energy definitely felt higher at ‘inoteca. It wasn’t a complete 180 from Stanton Social; more like a 120.
The menu at ‘inoteca was filled with a variety of small plates, all Italian inspired. Quick side note…I’m really digging this small plate trend right now. How many times have you gone into a restaurant and there are multiple things on the menu that look delicious, but because the size of the portions you only ended up ordering one and maybe sharing a couple bites with whoever you are with? The intentional sharing really allows you to try a little of everything, and have a great (or bad depending on the quality of the food) dining experience. Anyway, I digress…back to the menu…
As I was saying, the menu was full of small plates of Italian food. And again, we took our time looking at each thing, finally deciding that four plates made sense. We started with a bruschette, added some speck, sprinkled in a little octopus (Scott had been mentioning octopus pretty much all night) and some squash blossoms. Then, rather than ordering drinks, we opted for a bottle of wine (do as the Italians do, I say!). That was a pretty quick decision as we are all partial to Tuscan reds, and just went with the one that was recommended by our server (I didn’t see any that I remembered from Italy). And it was pretty good, a little dry, but flavorful.
Unlike Stanton Station, all of the plates arrived at the same time. I was able to quickly snap a picture while Scott and Danielle sat on their hands for a minute (they are learning what it is like to dine with an annoying foodie who takes a picture of everything…), and then we dove in. Since everything arrived at once, I figure I’ll write about it all in one paragraph. Let’s start with the speck because it’s easiest. The speck was good…nice and salty, just like I remember it in Italy. The only odd thing is that it was served with a flat bread that had been grilled on a panini press rather than crusty Italian bread with a little olive oil. That was a bit disappointing, but the meat was spot on. The squash blossoms were interesting…filled with goat cheese and served with a pea puree. Texturally, it was a little bland (even though the blossoms were fried, they weren’t that crispy), but the flavors were pretty good. The puree offered a bit of a sweetness that balanced the richness of the goat cheese nicely. As for the octopus, I wasn’t a big fan. There wasn’t really a sauce or anything that went with it, and it was a little rubbery and tasteless. Finally, we get to the absolute star of the show, the bruschette. We had gone with the fig and gorgonzola option, and ordered 5. We should have ordered 25. These were served on the wonderful Italian bread with a soft middle and crispy crust. The gorgonzola was melted to absolute perfection (though we were debating if it was pure gorgonzola, or if there was some heavy cream added to make it more of a sauce). And the fig was just sweet and juicy and wonderful. The flavors just exploded in your mouth; the sweetness offsetting the “bite” from the cheese. Absolutely wonderful.
After we finished our bottle of wine, we started making our way to the last place on our list (had to get a cannoli!). Immediately Danielle put me on the spot and wanted to know which I thought was better. At the time, I gave the lean to ‘inoteca, but as I think about it, I’m starting to lean back toward Stanton Social. The best dish of the night was the bruschette, but the duck empanada was not far behind. Both seafood dishes were overcooked in my opinion, but the shrimp at least had some flavor and spice to it. The squash blossoms were better than the corn dogs as our fried comparisons. So finally, it is the carpaccio vs. the speck, and I think the carpaccio wins. It’s definitely close, and as Scott said, “the thing about New York is it’s really easy to find a good meal, it’s tough to find an amazing meal” (I’ll caveat this by saying price is definitely a consideration, and both of these places were reasonable). This night was definitely a case of that. Both of the places were very good, with some highs and lows. I definitely recommend you check out both and decide for yourself. Just make sure at ‘inoteca, you get the gorgonzola and fig bruschette. The rest is up to you.