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Dinner at Felidia, 3/31/09

  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Atmosphere: townhouse-chic, dramatic interior, bi-level space, grand
  • Attire: business-casual
  • Ideal for: business meals, small groups/1x1, foodies, famous chef/owner
  • Must try: Bread basket and green pea dip
  • Price: Appetizers, most under $21; entrées, all under $42 (most pastas under $28)
  • Reservations: Accepted by phone or via: http://www.opentable.com/
  • Phone: (212) 758-1479
  • Website: www.lidiasitaly.com
  • Location: 243 E 58th St, (Btwn 2nd & 3rd Ave)

There are more than a handful of classic Manhattan restaurants that, despite the economy, have truly stood the test of time. Some that immediately come to mind are (most of these I’ve not been to): The Four Seasons, Felidia, 21 Club, Peter Luger Steakhouse and Rao’s. Growing up, I used to watch Lidia Bastianich’s cooking program on PBS and hoped that one day, I’d be able to dine in one of her many NYC restaurants.

In the five years that I’ve lived in Manhattan, I’ve only been to Becco, Lidia’s theater district Italian. Finally, after spending half of a decade in the Big Apple, I paid pilgrimage to Queen Bastianich’s flagship restaurant, Felidia.

Struggling to justify paying over $20 for a plate of pasta, I was elated to learn that on Monday’s through Friday’s from 4:30pm-6:15pm, Felidia offers a “Dinner for 2 for under $100” which includes 3-courses and bottle of Bastianich wine. With a deal like that, my friend Allie and I made a 5:30p.m. reservation for Tuesday night.

In true Lunch Belle fashion, I arrived at Felidia 20 minutes early. The place was completely empty, with the exception of the staff. I grabbed a seat at the bar, ordered a glass of Moscato d’Asti (though the enormous glass jars filled with homemade fruit-infused grappa looked fantastic) and began surveying my surroundings. The restaurant occupies the first two floors of a lovely townhouse, and its space is broken in to several dining areas. Felidia is richly decorated with Oriental rugs, dim lighting, mahogany wood-paneled walls, and a warm Tuscan color palate. While I was sipping my Moscato, I caught a glimpse of Lidia. The bar tender told me that she was being interviewed in the main dining room…I was star struck! Unfortunately, she left minutes before Allie arrived.

We were promptly seated at a spacious table for two. After gorging myself on too much cheese and wine in Paris, I told Allie that there was no way I’d be able to eat and drink what was offered on the 3-course menu. Our waitress greeted us and was under the impression that we were going to order the dinner special. When I told her that we weren’t, she put up a skillful sales fight. After we rejected her solicitations at least three times, she finally gave up.

Upon receiving a glass of wine, Allie and I placed our entrée orders. Though our waitress tried to upsell appetizers, we both annoyingly declined. I chose the “Pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli with aged pecorino and crushed black pepper,” which happens to be Felidia’s signature pasta.

A bountiful basket containing breadsticks, focaccia and paper-thin crackers arrived along side a dish with an “ice cream scoop” of bright green pea “dip.” With a texture similar to hummus, the pea dip was incredibly fresh, flavorful and unique. I tasted notes of olive oil, crushed red pepper, garlic and the market’s freshest emerald-green peas. Paired with the assortment of fresh breads, I thought to myself, “If our entrees are nearly as good as this, I’m going to be in love.”

Not long after receiving bread and dip, our entrees arrived. I was both shocked, yet not very surprised (expect the worst, hope for the best) by the small portion size of my dish. Luckily, this was a blessing in disguise. Swimming in a shallow butter sauce were long ravioli “tubes” filled with spicy pecorino cheese and the most subtle kiss of pear. The pasta was topped with more pecorino and a delicate dusting of black pepper. After my first bite, I was overwhelmed by cheese and butter. The black pepper and pear filling did nothing flavor or contrast-wise to my entrée, as both were barely distinguishable. I found my meal to be rather bland and much too heavy. (Now remember, I had just returned from France where I spent a week indulging in some of the world’s richest foods, so I am confident when I say that if I thought this dish was over-the-top, it was.)

Our check arrived with a small dish of homemade petite fours, which included a delicious pistachio cookie topped with a dollop of lemon curd.

In conclusion, I found my experience at Felidia to be average: The service was a bit too intrusive and aggressive, my pasta was sub par, and the price point was steep. Should I return in the future, I’ll make a meal out of bread, pea dip and a couple of glasses of bubbly at the bar.

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