Friday, January 29, 2010

NYC Winter Restaurant Week 2010: Isabella's

True, I allegedly devoted Restaurant Week to sampling New York's finer offerings for which I have had a long-time, unquenched craving.  But to have wandered through the culinary festivities without including my longtime favorite, Isabella's, would have been shamefully negligent, and left a sizable hole in my list of dream-dining.

I first fell infatuated with Isabella's, Stephen Hanson's Upper West Side pillar, when I trusted it to my most-anticipated meal of the week, brunch.  From their incomparable crab cakes benedict, to caramelized banana stuffed french toast with Grand Marnier mixed berry compote, I have still yet to find a more satisfying and brag-worthy brunch anywhere else in the city.

Certainly nowhere else have I witnessed a staff so knowledgeable and eager to guide you through your experience, committed to even personalizing it to your specific needs.  The team at the door greets you as though you are arriving home to a nurturing replenishing, and the waitstaff continues the charm, guaranteeing you are treated just the way you wish to be.

My initial infatuation has since exploded to a full-blown love affair, and it is an understatement to say that Isabella's has hosted some of my most memorable New York dining experiences.  This classic example of New American cuisine at its finest is truly one of the cornerstones of the Upper West Side.  Throughout the history of my visits, nearby tables have boasted the likes of Bill Gates, Spike Lee, and Bono.  But the real star of the scene is the chef, and his ridiculously delicious creations.

Winter Restaurant Week 2010 was no exception this evening.

We were first greeted by a hearty amuse-bouche, a demitasse of surprisingly silky cranberry bean minestrone.

Our first appetizer is reason alone that you should literally run to Isabella's before the menu changes.  A crispy soft-centered egg on a bed of frisee with roquefort cheese, accompanied by braised Hatfield bacon and porcini vinaigrette.  I cannot more enthusiastically recommend a dish.  A brilliant twist on bacon and eggs, I broke the golden breading to reveal a perfectly poached egg-white and molten yolk.  If the chef reportioned the dish as a country salad, I could have gladly enjoyed it as an entree.

Delectably grilled Point Judith calamari, with chick peas, capers, and mint dressing.

Al dente tortellini pillows filled with creamy ricotta, ladled with a tangy, profoundly robust braised short rib ragout.

A sinfully decadent chocolate butterscotch tart, with toffee chip ice cream.

The single fluffiest cheesecake to ever tickle my tongue, teamed with tangerine sorbet and pistachio financier...  It was like eating a cloud of citrus, and the perfect ending to a gorgeous meal.

Of course, we simply had to share my favorite item on the Isabella's menu... the chocolate bag.  Created by painting the lining of a paper bag with dark chocolate and chilling it, then filling the chocolate bag with raspberry mousse, seasonal berries, and fresh whipped cream.

Whether for Restaurant Week, lunch, dinner, brunch, with a lover, a parent, or a best friend, you cannot claim to have sampled the best New York has to offer without treating yourself to Isabella's.  A holistic dining experience, the only thing separating it from its pricier and more exclusive competition is the fact you receive a portion beyond satisfying at a price accessible to a broader audience, achieving every ounce of the excellence without the pretense.

Isabella's on Urbanspoon

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