Is salami and eggs better than sex?
In my never-ending quest to answer that most existential query -- originally posed by quintessential Jewish comedian Alan King -- I had lunch at Salumeria Rosi, chef Cesare Casella's latest Italian restaurant. Situated on Manhattan's Upper West Side, this Tuscan temple of pork product is a haven for Hebrews eating traif (i.e., very non-Kosher). The size of a studio apartment, at best a one bedroom, the charming ambiance is a kind of warm post-industrial chic, accented by hanging slabs of pigs' hindquarters behind the take-out counter that greets you. Should you decide to eat in, a leather banquette that runs the length of the space accounts for about half of the 26 seats I counted. Theatrical track lighting, mirrored walls and a fab ceiling sculpture provide visual stimulus. Completing the picture, Cesare's signature rosemary sprigs are enveloped in every single cloth napkin.
The menu is all small plates -- think Tuscan tapas -- a trend that I hope spreads and continues, as it promotes both variety and portion control. (Or in my case, complete lack thereof.) The many assorted "salamis" comprise pretty much everything you can make out of pig. The house made porchetta, for example, is pork loin seasoned with garlic and herbs, bound in pork belly and oven roasted. Pancetta is bacon on its very best behavior. The various prosciuttos come in a variety of ages. You can order individually or enjoy a glamorous assortment of cured meats for the table.
I started with the day's special, a piece of toast with sauteed ramps and cooked prosciutto covered by a fried egg, whose yummy yellow yoke oozed out warmly over the proceedings. Not exactly salami and eggs, but delightful nonetheless, washed down with the house's lively Pinot Grigio. If that's unavailable, you could opt for Cesare's signature salad of soft scrambled egg, pancetta and market greens. I followed with a soppressata di polpo, a terrine of uber thinly sliced octopus with a sensuous olive and caper vinaigrette. Toothsome it was, if you are a fan of octopus, one of my very favorite foods. If not, try the seven-bean salad, the savory tart of leeks, pancetta and Parmigiano, a braised lamb shank or risotto with sweet butternut squash. The lasagna looks luxurious too.
Next up for me: costina. This is your Tuscan grandma's version of ribs -- one meaty rib, actually -- bathed in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. You'll probably want to sop up the plate with the chewy, crusty pane toscano, the house bread from the standout Sullivan Street Bakery. Accompany your sopping with a splash of the full-bodied San Giovese. My roasted Brussel sprouts with pancetta and garlic were nutty and al dente crunchy. To my taste, they might have benefited from just a splash of acidity, but I'm not complaining.
Order the espresso from one of the pleasant wait staff if you appreciate your coffee good and strong, as in Italy, and as it should be. You could skip the perfunctory plate of biscotti and walk directly next door instead to Jacques Torres for extraordinary, decadent and very expensive chocolate. Or stroll only a few blocks to Grom (@ 76th on Broadway) for gelato flown in fresh from the motherland. But first, on the way out, stop by the counter and take some salami home for tomorrow to scramble with your eggs.
Is Salami and Eggs better than sex? No. But it's a damn good second place. Decide for yourself at Salumeria Rosi. For dinner on the weekend, call for reservations a week in advance. Or avoid the crowd altogether and drop in for lunch, where every plate is priced from $4 to $9. Say hello to Cesare, who is generally there every day. And that matters.
283 Amsterdam Avenue @ 73rd Street