NYC's most decadent "red-sauce" Italian

NYC's most decadent "red-sauce" Italian

Long before it made a name for itself among the city's media magnates - Gossip Girls - and the who's who of Page Six, Lavo seduced me when her pre-opening menus were posted on Grub Street.  That, of course, was September 2010.  And although it's taken me nearly seven months to get there, I finally made an evening out of Lavo.  Or, shall I say, Lavo made an evening out of me...

Everyone has at least one, maybe two, of those friends - or family members - who are so over-the-top fabulous, that even if they're a couple of minutes an hour late, you *almost* don't mind.  As much.  Case in point: my friend, Theresa.  Although she lives in Dallas, Miss T is fortunate enough to find herself in Manhattan every month, or so.  This means that I get to see her almost as often as I see many of my friends who actually do reside in NYC.

T and I were to meet for a drink at Lavo before parting ways for previously-arranged dinner reservations and business meetings.  Since I work in such close proximity to the restaurant, I arrived shortly after 5pm.  The first thing that I noticed, prior to the interior decor and just how crowded the bar area seemed, was how kind and relaxed the two hostesses were.  Aside from a couple of empty bar stools, there were a handful of vacant tables and chairs.  "They're (the tables and chairs) first come, first serve," the friendly women replied.  The fact that I was taken aback by their breezy kindness may sound odd to you, the reader, but let me back-track and explain my thought process going in to this experience: aside from its red sauce-heavy Italian menu, Lavo (which coins itself as an "Italian Restaurant, Nightclub, & Lounge"), and other similar concepts, typically don't hold a spot on my top five "where to eat dinner tonight" list.  Why?  Because, more often than not, the service sucks and the food/drink is overpriced.  The DJ music - yes, I said DJ music - is overbearing and, almost identical to a timed pre-birth contraction, you can feel the eruption of the bass as it overtakes the circumference your chair's cushion.  That, to me, sounds about as fun as getting caught in one of NYC's famous "horizontal" rainstorms, sans umbrella.  

Although Miss T was an hour late in meeting me, I was thankful to have a cozy cafe table in which to relax, sip wine, and people-watch.  My bar waitress made me feel incredibly welcome, despite being a solo customer taking up a 2-3 top table for nearly an hour.  I was incredibly grateful. 
 
Moments before 7pm, my next round of guests, Emily and Bryan, arrived for dinner.  After I bid Miss T a hearty farewell, the three of us were whisked to a spacious 4-top in Lavo's grand dining room.
While Em and Bryan decided to split a bottle of white, I chose to nurse my glass of Heron Pinot NoirWho the hell orders white wine with heavy, red-sauce Italian food?  No thanks.  And while the three of us got reacquainted and began to peruse Lavo's dinner menu, our server presented us with a basket of garlic bread and a bowl of warm marinara dipping sauce.  Now I don't know about you, but ever since olive oil became the new butter, I've often wondered, in secret, of course - what the heck happened to the garlic bread?  Because, I swear to god, if I see one more flute filled with long, anorexically-thin bread sticks - or an accompaniment of olive oil that isn't *at the very least* blended that yummy chopped stuff a-la-Carino's, then I just may lose it.  Lavo, I applaud you.  Your luscious, garlic-y loaf reminds me of my mother's.  

Em, Bryan, and I chose to split two appetizers and two entrees:

Kobe-stuffed Rice Balls: These delightful, tennis ball-sized morsels packed a mean punch.  Beyond the crispy, golden exterior was a treasure trove of ground Kobe beef, green garden peas, gooey mozzarella cheese, and rice nibs.  The crown jewel?  Dipping each forkful into the shallow marinara "moat" surrounding each 'ball.   

Tuna Tartare: Although every bit fresh, clean, and delicious, Lavo's tuna tartare appetizer was no match for the version that I had, recently, at BLT Prime.  Perhaps it the fact that both (versions) were constructed very similarly and utilized almost identical ingredients: tuna, avocado, micro-greens.  I found the smashed avocados that were used to be unripe, yielding a dull flavor.  Also, I believe that there was a key savory/salty, textural component missing from Lavo's presentation.

"Lobster Scampi" Brick Oven Pizza: This specific pizza was ordered per Bryan's request and, I'm not going to lie, I was nervous.  Not only because of its $28 price tag (thank god we split this by three), but for the fact that, at least where I come from, fish/shellfish does not belong on a pizza!  I'm sorry, but how much nastier of a combination can you conjure up?  Well, leave it to Lavo to create a pizza, topped with fingerling potatoes and roasted lobster, that tastes better than your favorite "safe" traditional pie.  Aside from a couple of extra fish-y lobster bits, this brick oven masterpiece was a homerun.  Score!

Spaghetti with Kobe (beef) Meatballs: As if normal, non-Kobe Beef meatballs weren't good enough, Lavo had to take this classic dish to the umpteenth level.  Literally.  How much more decadent can you get?  I was terrified to take my first bite.  What if I loved it?  Then what?  At a whopping $34/plate, I knew that I had a 50/50 chance of potentially treading in to a choppy abyss ... of addiction.  And basically, that's what happened.  Unfortunately for me and my wallet (and future dates/boyfriends and parental visits),  Lavo's Spaghetti with Kobe Meatballs is a dish that I'm going to have a very hard time getting off of my mind.  I have one of those itchy feelings that I could, potentially, become a somewhat of a regular at the restaurant - all in the name of this particular entree.  While that may involve me having to get a second job in order to fund my "habit," it may be something to consider!   

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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