Ninth Avenue Eats: Italian on St. Valentine’s Day


You can choose from a variety of Italian dishes at Puttanesca, located on Ninth Ave. near 56th St. (Doug Baum/The Observer)

Published February 4, 2010

After being seated for mere seconds in the main room of Puttanesca among the old money, early crowd, the hostess who had just seated my dining guest and me promptly requested that we change tables as the one we were occupying was reserved. Either a blatant example of ageism or an honest mistake. I saw no reserved signs.

Despite my initial experience, the Italian restaurant located on Ninth Avenue at the corner of 56th Street offers a good time (as its name suggests, translating roughly to “lady of the night”) and, more importantly, a good meal in a refined setting. Puttanesca is my recommendation to couples seeking a romantic and appetizing evening of Feb. 14 within the Midtown West locale.

Once I was reseated in the second of three rooms in the restaurant, my pleasant waitress, the swift service  of the wait staff, and the quickness in which the chef prepared our entrees made me rethink my earlier conclusions about Puttanesca’s hospitality, specifically their questionable MO when seating younger, less affluent patrons.

Although the restaurant is quite large compared to many in Hell’s Kitchen, and was becoming crowded by 7 p.m., the division of the space, the exposed brick and black and white photography on the walls created an intimate dining experience.

To start, the house salad, a multi-textured, refreshing combination of romaine lettuce, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, and baby artichokes—promising. If presentation is everything, then this salad had it all, including thin slices of Parmesan drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. The tender artichokes blended well with the salad as a whole, priced at eight dollars.

Instead of the tried and trite antipasto, try the fried calamari garnished with fried zucchini cut thinner than a potato chip, and tastier. For nine dollars, the portion of calamari would have just about sufficed, but the complementing sweet pepper sauce sealed the deal. The tangy variation on plain marinara sauce traditionally served with fried calamari was the highlight of the meal.

Puttanesca’s ravioli alla vodka ($13) was uniquely stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes and served with asparagus in a pink vodka sauce. The ravioli itself was delicious (Puttanesca’s pasta is homemade), however the shaved Parmesan on top was cheesy overkill. Nothing that can’t be scraped off though.

A standard in Italian restaurants, the chicken francese was rather predictable. For $16, diners are served a substantial piece of chicken bathed in a light lemon and white wine sauce over bland broccoli and roasted potatoes. The sauce somewhat makes up for the sides’ lack of flavor. The various fish and veal entrees on the menu may outdo the chicken dishes.

Overall, the appetizers were more memorable than the entrees; however, that may have something to do with the struggle it took to finish the last bite. Too stuffed for dessert.

If you’re amused by my enticing food descriptions and feel like challenging the negative stereotype of youth among barely high society, give Puttanesca a go. On Feb. 14, in addition to the regular menu, the restaurant will be offering a special Valentine’s Day menu, which includes choices of an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, as well as chef’s choice of soup and a glass of chilled Prosecco for the lady. The three-course meal costs $39.95 per person with 20 percent gratuity included per table. Although the Valentine’s options are tempting (heart-shaped lobster ravioli, for instance), I would not recommend limiting yourself to the holiday menu, which only provides two or three choices per course. The regular menu is diverse with traditional Italian dishes as well as more unique ones. Not to mention, if you and your date don’t have the appetites or the disposable incomes for a three-course meal, you may want to share an appetizer and each choose among the dozen or so pasta dishes, the average price being $13.

Students willing to open their wallets slightly wider than they may regularly for a Friday night date should make Valentine’s Day reservations for two at Puttanesca. Good food, romantic decor, located a mere four blocks from the Fordham Lincoln Center campus (in case your table turns out to be reserved).