Mario Batali's latest restaurant, his first in New York City since Eataly, is located in the grand Maritime Hotel. With north and south dining rooms that each seat 120 people, La Sirena is massive. These two dining rooms are separated by an impressive bar, which also serves as a center piece of the restaurant.
Pete Wells notes that the restaurant's energy, provided by both the constant hustle of the staff and the “dressy trattoria cooking,” has brought back the, “excitement of eating in huge, kinetic restaurants.” As of late, many of these larger-than-life restaurants aren't too innovative. Wells explains, “operations on La Sirena’s scale sometimes get knocked as “big-box restaurants, as if any place seating more than 40 people were the equivalent of a Best Buy at the strip mall.” This isn't the case at La Sirena.
That said, the menu stays more on the cautionary side. “The ground it covers is mostly the middle one. There’s orecchiette with tripe but no lambs’ tongue...” Wells says. Though not the most exciting Italian cuisine out there, the cooking overseen by Josh Laurano, along with chef Batali, does what it does best: providing satisfying, classic Italian dishes. “What you notice are not dishes you’ve never seen before but ones you have: hulking meatballs, soft and pale inside with melting grated cheese; braciola, interpreted as braised rolled short ribs in a simple, ripe-red tomato sauce; clams baked under bread crumbs and oregano, jolted with a dab of chopped chiles in oil and a sweet slice of lemon.” Wells surmizes, “In other words, very little breaking news, but what Mr. Laurano does, he tries to do with care and vigor and enough flourishes to keep your mind from wandering too far.”
Wells had favorable things to say about the appetizers, which he states are generous in size and flavor. He also raved about the the main courses which included the lasagna which he describes as, “layered with al dente wheels of waxy potato and a pesto as vibrant as if the basil had been picked 10 minutes ago” and the bucatini, “with bites of octopus, right on the border between firm and tender, have a tomato sauce with that low murmur of chile heat Mr. Batali’s restaurants are so adept at delivering.”
In stating that, “Mr. Laurano gives the main courses layers of complexity that go beyond standard trattoria cooking,” it's obvious that Wells enjoyed La Sirena; that said, some dishes didn't live up to expectations, though not because they were too simple. For example, he says “the problem with porchetta alla Romana wasn’t the generous seasoning but the blubbery wrapper of under-rendered pork belly.”
As for the desserts, they were a homerun. “In Michael Laiskonis’s desserts, there’s nothing but sophisticated pleasure. The baba is a citrus-soaked spongecake turned pink with Campari. The semifreddo looks like a baked alaska, a hedgehog of browned meringue around blood orange sorbet with a frozen core of honey nougat.” Wells was pleased by these sweet bites of luxurious dessert.
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