Fancy Ham Next to Zabar's? Oy!

Emanuel Mar23 Salumeria1.jpg

Photo by Tim Gaylord, Courtesy of Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto

Who, you might ask, had the brilliant idea of opening a food store and restaurant dedicated to selling salumi on the Upper West Side of New York in the midst of the second worst recession in a century?

If you don't know -- and don't be embarrassed, I didn't either -- salumi are Tuscan cured meats. Let's be clear: this means lots of different kinds of hams, salamis, and other spiced pork products, dozens of which are hanging off the walls. On the Upper West Side of New York?

This brainstorm occurred neither with any market research about the socio-demographics of the West Side (or even a stroll to see all the synagogues), nor from a belief that a lot of New Yorkers need a refresher course in the laws of kashrut. But even if you are like me or my vegetarian companion and don't eat the salumi, prosciutto, or other cured pork products, there is plenty to choose from.

Even if you are like me or my vegetarian companion and don't eat the salumi, there is plenty to choose from.

But the storefront on Amsterdam near 73rd (just a few blocks from those New York icons, H&H bagels and Zabar's) is constantly jammed. The tables are so closely packed you have to be Twiggy to get to the booth seats at the wall. As a result of the Italian genealogy -- or maybe in spite of the proximity -- the ambiance is refreshingly friendly. The nice South African Jewish couple sitting next to me and my friend offered us their dining recommendations, and we talked about politics before they left. Despite the sardine packing, the babies and their squeals of joy were welcomed.

Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto is the latest venture of chef Cesare Casella, the so-called ambassador of Italian cuisine in the United States. His previous endeavors included Il Toscaccio and Beppe. The Academy Award winning Hollywood designer Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd) did the decor. I won't say my cousin could have designed the place, but while I found it comfortable, I did not find the restaurant's interior decoration notable. Indeed, someone else had to point out to me that a famed designer did the job.

The dishes are all "appetizer" size, which means about three to four bites worth for a cool $4 to $7 per dish. The torta di porri -- individual sized leek tart -- was wonderful, with the oniony flavor of the leeks held together by Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The small insalata pontormo -- "Cesare's signature salad of soft scrambled egg, pancetta, and market greens" -- was fresh, with a tangy dressing enriched by the egg. A great deal of radicchio and Belgian endives are used in the dishes, whether with anchovies or in salads, to subtly add complexity to the tastes.

I love Brussels sprouts, and the cavolini, made of roasted sprouts, pancetta, and garlic was lovely. The sprouts were not overcooked and retained the nice, crunchy texture that was highlighted -- not drowned -- by the garlic flavoring. The risotto with sweet butternut squash was delicious. Crunchy, slightly nutty risotto was nicely sweetened with the squash.

The only disappointment was the roasted beet dish -- insalata di barbabietole. Rather than a rainbow of freshly roasted yellow, red, and candy striped beets, the dish looked and tasted more like my Grandmother's beet mishmash that turned me -- and hundreds of others -- off of the wonderful taste of beets for decades.

We can thank the Rosi family [Curator's note -- and Parmacotto, the big conglomerate that funded this venture in a down economy] and Cesare Casella for their brilliance in adding this delightful dining haven to New York. Long may it be crowded -- and friendly.