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Wednesday
Sep122012

Cannoli & artichoke dip: A press dinner at Sofia Wine Bar & Cafe

  • Restaurant  Sofia Wine Bar & Cafe
  • Cuisine  Italian, wine bar, small plates
  • Location  202 E. 50th Street (between 2nd & 3rd Avenues), Manhattan
  • Phone  212-888-8660
  • Directions  Hopstop
  • Atmosphere  intimate, rustic, warm, romantic
  • Attire  smart-casual
  • Ideal for  1x1, dine at the bar, 100 wines by the glass, after-work drinks, date night
  • Price  moderate
  • Sofia Wine Bar, Cafe on Urbanspoon

When I received my invitation for a press dinner at Sofia Wine Bar & Cafe, I had to do a double take.  Why?  Because, up until that very moment, I was pretty damn confident that I knew of every restaurant within the 5-block radius surrounding my Midtown East office.  Well, clearly, I didn't...

A small stoop of stairs leads you up to Sofia's entrance, which is located on the first floor of a charming brownstone.  But, even before you walk up the stairs, the buzz of people laughing and mingling can be heard nearly one building away.  This is thanks to a floor-to-ceiling, double-paned window - enclosed by an opera balcony - that opens on to 50th Street.

Once inside, you realize that Sofia's space - separated in to two areas:  Bar and dining room - is quite small and intimate.  Modern tunes blast through overhead speakers at a piercing level where, at times, you have to yell to speak.  Odd, considering Sofia deems herself as a "wine bar and cafe" which, at least to me, conjures soothing jazz music.  But don't let the tunes keep you away, folks.  For it's Sofia's hearty eats + 100 wines by-the-glass + cozy and rustic interior that, ultimately, will make you fall in love. 

Picture it:  Exposed brick walls throughout, French chandeliers, hardwood flooring, dim lighting, twinkling candles, old-fashioned chotchkies, handmade wood carvings, and some of the sexiest suspender-clad male servers/bartenders on the island.  What more could you ask for?

After greeting one another, the six of us "press folk" began receiving courses, served family-style.  Each paired with wine.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip, $14  served with a flute of prosecco 

The fact that this uber-American/TGIFriday's-style starter was even listed on the menu suprised me, considering that the rest of Sofia's offerings are Italian.  Alas, upon inquiry, our table learned that the dip *is* made with Italian cheeses...

Served with blue-corn tortilla chips, the creamy, slightly pungent dip was laced with wilted spinach leaves and chunks of artichoke hearts.  

I noticed that some of the other tables in the dining room had also ordered this sharable starter which, I suppose, was a good sign.  While I found the dip tasty, I would not pay the $14 price tag if I were to dine here on my own dime.

Mac n' Cheese, Mozzarella, Stuffed Mushrooms  served with a glass of crisp, white wine

Mac n' Cheese, $12:  Orichette pasta was enveloped by a trio of cheeses, including fontina and white cheddar.  The casserole was finished with a thin layer of breadcrumbs, then baked.  Personally, I would have preferred a creamier, better-melting cheese blend to the greasy cheddar and fontina.

Mozzarella (price not listed):  Made in-house, thick slices of mozzarella were topped with small, fragrant basil leaves and drizzled with olive oil. 

Stuffed Mushrooms, $14:  Mushroom caps were crowned by a blend of buttery breadcrumbs, artichokes, salty pancetta, and sour cream, before being baked to a warm and golden brown. 

Bruschetta Trio, $16  served with a glass of red wine

Toasted country bread segments were finished with a trio of different toppings:  Tomato, eggplant, and ricotta with orange-blossom honey.  Of all of the appetizers/starters we sampled, this was my favorite.  The toppings were so flavorful and fresh!  What a lovely presentation, to boot! 

Cheese lasagna, Meatball (prices not listedserved with red wine

*Note:  Lasagna is only served on Sunday evenings*

The only component of this dish that was not homemade?  The flat noodles for the lasagna.  Everything else, my friends, was made-from-scratch. 

Layer upon layer of noodle - ricotta cheese - tomato sauce was finished with freshly-shredded parmesan cheese and a sprig of basil.  I made sure to include a chunk of Sofia's fluffy, all-beef meatball in every bite of the lasagna.  Brilliant!

Margherita Pizza, $14  served with red wine

In my opinion, Sofia truly "saved the best for last."  Hailing from a family of professional pizzeria owners and bakers, Chef Tommaso DeGrezia knows a thing or two about making a perfect pie.  And this means only using dough that was made day-of.  By hand.  Crushed tomatoes, handmade mozzerella cheese, and slivers of fresh basil arrived bubbling atop a charred, not-too-thick/not-too-thin crust. 

I would return to Sofia, alone, for this pizza.  Yes, it was that good.   

Cannoli, $5 for 2 pieces  served with Vin Santo (sweet dessert wine)

And this is the dish that rivals Sofia's excellent pizza pie:  Cannoli  imported from Sicily.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A thick-ish, cinnamon-y, fried dough "tube" was liberally filled with the best cannoli cream that I have ever tasted in my life.  Rather, the best cream, cannoli or otherwise, that I have ever tasted in my life.  It had this insane texture that was a cross between sugar cookie icing and traditional cannoli cream, with an incredible density that keeps lingering in my mind.  

Hell, I've just got to get back to Sofia this week and calm this raging craving...  Seriously.

To conclude

Despite the loud music (Though I just learned that they play jazz tunes on weekends!  Score!), the random 'artichoke dip' appetizer, a couple of ingredient mishaps, and steep-ish pricing (Sofia claims to "...uses only organic ingredients when preparing our most treasured recipes."), I really enjoyed my experience at Sofia.  I would absolutely recommend it to ladies who are looking for a quality spot after work - men, who are looking for ladies - date night - and folks who are seeking refuge from fratty Turtle Bay.  Without a doubt, I will be returning to this gem very soon for that marvelous pizza and some cannoli - perhaps even this week!

"Press dinner" vow:  My #1 priority is to always be 100% honest with you, my dear readers, in terms of genuine restaurant critique.  I will never try to oversell an establishment just because I received a gratis meal.  You have my word.  

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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