When I was in high school, my junior and senior year English teach, Mr. Powers, was legendary. He was one of those teachers that walked the perfect line between being funny and charismatic, but no nonsense when it came to assignments and work ethic. He was the advisor to the senior class, would stand on desks to get your attention, and wielded a baseball bat when he really wanted to make a point. Ninety-five percent of his students (including me, of course) had a crush on the guy, but he pretended to be completely oblivious to the fact. A small part of his infamy was, I’m sure, fueled by the fact that it was an all-girls Catholic high school, so the laws of supply and demand worked in his favor. That being said, he truly had a gift for educating – in Powers’s class, you could count on three things: reading, writing, and great anecdotes.
For a testimony to this impact, check out the Everything I Know About Life, I Learned from Mr. Powers group on Facebook. Of the many, many stories Powers told, I distinctly remember one about how his friends quickly learned that they couldn’t trust his recommendations during the first six months he dated his wife. Apparently, he would tell his friends that he’d seen a great film or tried an incredible new restaurant. His friends would later see the movie or try the restaurant and, much to their dismay, wind up sorely disappointed. After a while, his friends put two and two together – he was so taken by the company of the person he was with that just about everything they did together had a halo effect.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post. As mentioned earlier, I recently had a friend in town. We had a fantastic vacation together, and two of the many highlights were dinners at a couple of places I’d been wanting to try for a while. Don’t get me wrong – both of these restaurants actually were fantastic – but readers should be aware that the aforementioned halo effect of spending time with The Guy is likely at play, as well.
First up, Mable’s Smokehouse in Williamsburg. I’d read a review of Mable’s a few months ago in New York Magazine and had been looking forward to trying it out ever since. The Guy and I spent a Saturday afternoon stomping around Brooklyn, with plans to hit up both Barcade and the Brooklyn Brewery. Since Mable’s is right across the street from the Brewery, I figured this was the perfect opportunity. Our inability to tear ourselves away from old school video games meant we didn’t make it to the Brewery, after all, but we wound up at Mable’s regardless. The vibe was exactly what I expected – long, communal tables, rustic wood everywhere, and mismatched chairs. (This review on Thrillist does a good job of capturing the ambiance.) Not surprisingly, there was a wait for a table on a Saturday night, so we ordered a couple of platters, grabbed a seat at the bar, and feasted away. The meat (we went with the St. Louis ribs and beef brisket) was absolutely perfect – juicy, flavorful, and tender. The sides were also solid – we had the chance to sample the cole slaw, potato salad, mac and cheese, fresh corn off the cob, and BBQ baked beans. I was partial to the cole slaw (fresh, crispy, and not too gooey) and the beans (I’m a sucker for anything with BBQ sauce). The only thing that didn’t impress was the cornbread; it was a little bit drier and saltier than I was expecting, but other than that, I’d easily order everything else again. My sister will be here in a couple of weeks, and she’s already made me promise to take her.
A few nights later, we went to Lupa, a Batali joint that’s literally just a few blocks around the corner from my place. Because of the proximity, I pass by the restaurant a few times a week while walking Cop, but it wasn’t until recently, when a colleague mentioned this was his favorite Italian place in the city, that it was really on my radar. We didn’t have a reservation, but were seated immediately in the front dining room, which has communal tables in a casual, unpretentious space. Despite the fact that you’re sharing a table, there’s still an intimacy and classiness to the room; over all, I dug the ambiance. I’ve eaten at a few of Batali’s places (Otto, Casa Mona, and Esca), and while the food is always great, I find that the server can make or break the experience. Our waitress that night was particularly good; she was very friendly, knowledgeable, and didn’t seem to care that we weren’t ordering a $100 bottle of wine. We started with prosicutto di parma, followed by spaghetti alla carbonara (his) and ricotta gnocchi with sausage and fennel (mine). Both were outstanding, and went well with the nero d’avola we were drinking. For dessert, we indulged in the gelato del girono and a gorgonzola. (If cheese is an option for dessert, there’s a 99% chance I will order it. And! How have I never paired cranberry sauce with gorgonzola before?! Life changing!) I also couldn’t pass on the homemade limoncello. We didn’t eat a single bad thing; I think what I like best about Lupa is that it’s simple Italian food just done really, really perfectly. That, and it’s named for a canine – clearly, I’ve got a new favorite spot, and I’m looking forward to taking my dad and stepmom here the next time they’re in town.
And now, for the real test – go forth, try these places, and let me know whether or not my good taste has been impacted by great company.