One of my top 5 meals ever: Lavagna in East Village

A good picture of my incredible steak at Lavagna

A good picture of my incredible steak at Lavagna

I had exceedingly high hopes for our trip to Lavagna. A friend’s rec took us past a protest at the U.N. building, up the FDR (I think) and dropped us on a little street on the lower east side where we cozied up for an early dinner that I’ll be talking about for a long, long time.

We pulled up in the cab for our farewell to NYC dinner and the street looked like something out of an old New York movie. It was dark and narrow, with tall brick buildings smashed up against each other the way you only find in large east coast cities. Having showed up a little early for our decidedly un-New Yorkish 6:15 reservation, we decided to drift down the street for a little exploring. We made it about half a block before being sucked in to what seemed to be a firmly 19th century pub…with a very 21st century cocktail program

The sign on the way in to Goat Town

Goat Town was a long, narrow place with a brushed copper bartop, great music coming out of a record player, and an incredibly knowledgeable bartender named Gabriel.

A real, honest to goodness working record player! Not quite old world, but still very cool

Goat Town’s name comes from author Washington Irving, which absolutely pushed the ‘old world’ button for me.  According to the New York Public library, it helps explain how NYC became “Gotham.”Adding to the old world charm, as i made my way towards the bathroom I was greeted by two great big wooden doors that belonged on an old pirate ship or an English pub. How cool. Oddly, the bathroom had a too clear for comfort view into the walk-up apartment behind the building. I chalked it up to the charm, made my way back to Gabriel, and began investigating the cocktails. Gabriel had a depth of knowledge of flavors and drinks that was, quite literally, refreshing. Wife asked for something not too sweet, but fragrant and light. Without missing a beat, Gabriel recommends the Ku-Ku Goat, with a cool bit of Herbsaint and fennel. I went a little harder and ordered up anything with ginger and wound up with Yorgo’s Punch, which worked perfectly with the ginger, lime, curacao and Royal Dock Gin. Both drinks are standard, not seasonal, so they’ll be available until the program changes again.  Unfortunately, we had no time to linger as the time had gotten away a bit and we needed to head back up the block for dinner.

We were dining with the in-laws, so a reasonable-for-New York 9:00 p.m. dinner was not possible. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. At 6:15 p.m. we were, not surprisingly, the only people looking for food. The server, who might’ve been an owner because he carried himself like someone with a personal stake in our experience, greeted us promptly and after giving us water, began a slew of individualized recommendations and tales that would have made the folks at a high-end clothing boutique proud.  My father-in-law is a not at all picky vegetarian who likes meatless adventure. Our new friend had several ideas, helped him through the menu, and patiently waited while we “helped” him settle on the wild mushroom pizza with truffle oil (pictured) and something else I don’t quite remember.

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A word about this pizza. Wife and I do not, as a general matter, consume the funghi.  It’s a food item that usually has horribly slimy texture and lacks any real character.  This pizza was a serious and wonderful exception.  I believe it had chanterelle and porcini mushrooms that were firm and meaty. I don’t usually recommend things with mushrooms on it, but this was an exception. Overall, the pizza wasn’t quite as good as what we’d had in Fornino (read post here) two days earlier, but I suspect not many pizzas are.  Moving right along, in contrast to my father-in-law, my  mother-in-law is, shall we say, a bit more selective, but an easy to please eater and the pasta with red sauce checked the box for her pretty quickly.  Before I move on, I have a quick note to point out. It’s so important I’ve given it its own paragraph and some bold and italics for emphasis. Plus I’ve added these two gratuitous intro sentences to really stress the point.

IMPORTANT NOTE: As mentioned gratuitously above, this point is important enough that I feel it deserves its own paragraph. Lavagna offers a deal that includes an appetizer, an entree and a dessert for $32.  Usually only places that kind of suck have to lure you in with great food deals and special bargains. This is unequivocally NOT such a place, as I am warming up to rave about our meals.  A couple caveats. You have to be in the building by 6:30, but that’s not the end of the world, oh and it doesn’t include the steak or the lamb, but there were plenty of quality options. Still, a phenomenal deal.

Now, onto our food.  Wife quickly settled on the prosciutto for an appetizer and the pappardelle  with braised rabbit, thyme and olives for an entree. I snapped a picture of the prosciutto mostly so I’d remember we had it, but just the same, here it is

Tasty prosciutto and parmesan

Tasty prosciutto and parmesan

I can’t tell you what manner of opiate the greens on this dish were laced with, but the slight tang combined with thinly sliced meat and the crunch of the greens combined to provide a quality flavor and texture experience.  I had just enough time for one bite and by the time I’d looked back up from my kale Caesar salad, it was gone.  Unlike the somewhat tough kale I’d had a few days earlier, this one had the bitter and the tough sautéed out of it and I was left with a lighter version of the traditional starter -which, by the way, was invented in Tijuana in the border region of Mexico near San Diego (which I fully expect to experience a great explosion of collaboration with San Diego very, very soon).

I haven’t included a picture of the wild rabbit, nor the face my mother-in-law made as Wife and I luxuriated over it, but I can assure you it was quite good.  As for me, I should say that I’d been searching for a really good cut of beef since our trip had begun in D.C.  So it was no real decision when I saw the presence of the marinated beef tenderloin on the menu. It wasn’t part of the special deal, but really who cares, it looked good–and it was good. See

A good picture of my incredible steak at Lavagna

A good picture of my incredible steak at Lavagna

I know, this is the same photo I posted up top. But now that I’m talking about the roasted red pepper risotto that I subbed out for potatoes, the sautéed green beans and the perfectly–yes, dammit, perfectly–cooked medium rare cut of meat I felt compelled to post a duplicate. If you feel your salivary glands kicking into gear, that’s totally normal. And utterly appropriate. If I’d already gotten rid of my crappy Evo phone I’d have been able to take real photos so you could really see what a remarkable job this chef did, instead you’ll have to take my word for it. Any of you who really enjoy steak will appreciate my desire to ignore the au poivre that came with my meal. I actually sliced my way through half the steak before even trying the light brown accompanying sauce. Good steak doesn’t need sauce. This steak didn’t need it, either. But holy hell it was like a second meal on the same plate! The dominant flavor I could pick up was black pepper, and paired with the nice Montepulciano called La Murola our server recommended it just worked to create a new trio of flavors I didn’t think was altogether possible. Yes, I recognize the hyperbole and I promise to reserve such judgments for extreme situations. This was one of such situation.

I’d like to continue the story with our three desserts (shared between four people). Or perhaps talk about the outrageous $100 we spent on three non-alcoholic drinks and a coffee at the Marriott Marquis rotating bar (easily the worst value and most overpriced experience I’ve had in more than a year). But I’d like to leave the night at Lavagna and thank my friends Jamie and Jared for introducing us to a place you really should make reservations for next time you’re in Manhattan. Thanks for stopping by.

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