Trying the New Menu at Zuppa

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I had an amazing experience at Zuppa last night. Four friends and I took a table in the corner and sampled a more than a dozen dishes from the new menu, which debuted this week.

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Chef David DiBari has thrown the traditional appetizer-entree-dessert formula to the wind and now has a menu that offers everything from “leccaditi,” which means finger foods (it literally translates as “lick your fingers”), to entrees so big you could put a saddle on them.

In between, you’ll find meats and cheeses, appetizers, salads, pizzas, pastas and side dishes. I tried more than a dozen things last night and every one of them was creative, balanced and well prepared. The meal was a triumph.

We started with well-crafted cocktails at the bar. Francesca, the bartender, put four new drinks on the menu and we tried three of them: one with pomegranate:

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One called a peach bellini martini:

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And one called a Sexy Mojito. Sexy because she drizzles brown rum over the top, so when you’re done drinking it you’ll think you’re sexy even if no one else does. :O

The drinks were creative — especially the pomegranate and the mojito, which was full of mint and lime, but the peach was a little sweet for me.

At the table, we shared a bunch of apps.

Tartufi:

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(Excuse the blur; as you know, I don’t use flash.)

Risotto with gorgonzola and white truffle essence. Mmm. Crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside with just the right amount of resistance from the rice.

Meats and cheeses:

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From the front to back, the meats were speck (smoked prosciutto) from Trentino-Alto Adige; soppressata from Puglia; porchetta (rosemary-infused ham) from Lazio.

The cheeses, from left to right, were Brillo Chianti, a sheep’s milk from Tuscany that’s soaked in wine; Pecorino Boschetto, a cow and sheep mix from Tuscany with truffle (the texture on that was unbelievable…I’d almost call it bouncy) and a Brillat Savarin, a triple creme from Normandy.

The staff kept trying to take the board away throughout the evening to make room for other things, but we wouldn’t let them — we wanted to keep nibbling.

We had two seafood appetizers. Vongole:

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Wood roasted clams with leeks, pancetta and pangrattato (a breadcrumb topping). Not too oily and just enough smoke from the wood to make them interesting.

And cozze:

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Mussels, fregula, hot soppressatta and corn. This was one of my favorite flavors of the night. All the sweetness of the corn and mussels tempered with the spicy of the sausage, and some backbone from the fregula, which is a pasta made from semolina. It kind of feels like couscous in your mouth.

We couldn’t NOT try a pizza.

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This one had speck, stracchino (a cow’s milk cheese) and tomato jam. I believe I could live on this and be happy. (Well, maybe I’d miss sushi.) The tomato jam was sweet but not cloying and the smoky meat was addictive. Great crust, too.

Salads.

Escarole with Jerusalem artichoke, orange, turnip oil and ricotta salata:

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And smoked fig with arugula, caprino fresca (a goat cheese) and grilled pancetta:

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The second was right in my wheelhouse. I’m a fig girl. The escarole was tasty but I wished for a little more sweetness in the Jerusalem artichoke. The orange helped, though.

Yes, we were running out of room at this point. We tried a few bites of the pasta course and took a lot of it home.

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Clockwise from 3 p.m.: Ravioli with wild mushroom, sage butter and black truffle; rigatoni with broccoli rabe, berkshire sausage and ricotta salata; and penne alla grappa with pancetta, tomato and mascarpone.

All were great (the pastas are all made in house) but the penne is the best. It’s Dave’s version of penne alla vodka, except he uses grappa instead of vodka and mascarpone instead of cream. It’s heavenly. (I’m going to have it for lunch in a little while and I’m so happy about that.)

We were five at the table and we got five entrees. We each took a bite and passed and had to take the rest home. (I know someone who’s got the pork chop for lunch and he’s a happy guy.)

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See what I mean about a saddle? So juicy, tender and delicious. And there’s a little garnish made of dates on top that blew me away.

Branzino with cabbage, tomato, black currants, cpaers and pignoli:

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Ok maybe for this one you need a harness. Gorgeous fish though. It’s wrapped in potato a la Daniel Boulud and Paul Bocuse, but no Barolo or truffles. It flakes away and you get the sweet flavor of the fish, the briny of the capers and the crunch of the pine nuts.

The chicken must have been brined… it was so juicy.

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It had an exotic flavor — Dave calls it “Sicilian trade spices” on the menu — and the raisins were such a great addition.

Short ribs with polenta and eggplant “agro dolce”:

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Talk about sexy. Melted in my mouth. So rich and decadent.

And the lamb:

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Dave smokes his own lamb sausage and grills both that and the lamb chop over the open flame in the kitchen. Underneath is “cheesed spatzle,” a ricotta dumpling made around Bolzano, which is influcened by Austria.  Dave adds parmigiano reggiano as it cooks to give the spatzle a creamy texture. There’s more of the tomato jam we saw earlier from the pizza. Wow. I took two bites of this one, and so did a couple other people at the table.

Dessert was unnecessary, but Dave’s so good at making it we had to try. It’s rare to find a chef who can do both savory and sweet really well, but down in Yonkers you’ve got two within a block or two who excel at it (Peter Kelly does too).

Cassata:

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Sicilian ricotta cake with candied citrus and hazelnuts. A little sweet for me.

Pasta fritta:

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This monster was filled with nutella. It’s like a kid’s dream come true. So gooey.

A Zuppa standard: bag of warm zeppole:

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It comes with three dipping sauces. I like the caramel one best.

The two most interesting desserts of the night were the panna cotta —

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— which was made with honey and lavender and came with an almond brittle. Because those flavors are so intense, Dave cut the dish with a lemon-pepper sorbet that was so sharp I actually coughed. I loved it.

And my favorite:

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Warm mascarpone with sauteed strawberries and pistachio schiumma (or foam). It was well balanced, not to sweet and satisying.

Seriously, a great meal. Go to Zuppa and fashion your own. You just want the pizza and a few apps? Sit at the bar and chat with Francesca. You want to pair some of  terrific Italian wines Randy Restiano keeps in the impressive cellar with a three-course meal? Don’t miss that lamb. Or go with a date and order a couple of pastas (just make sure you get the penne).

Here’s the new menu so you can decide ahead of time.  Go, and report back here. I want to know.

The 411 on Zuppa.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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