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Darkening Puttanesca’s door entailed exiting heat wave hell and entering a cool spacious welcoming heaven. When I was immediately plied with a much needed drink, I was enervated to the extent that I confused “San Pellegrino” with “Pinot Grigio.” After I profusely apologized for my beverage appellation melt down mistake, the wine—with graciousness and understanding–was substituted for sparkling water. With my to the rescue tall glass enhanced with straw, lime wedge and just the right amount of ice much needed thirst quencher in hand, I perused the arched brick walled interior and picked a corner table which afforded an unimpeded view of beautiful chandeliers.

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When Buddy, the wine professional, came to my table to schmooze, I asked him what a wine professional does. He explained that Puttanesca serves fifty different wines by the glass and offers one hundred selections on its bottle list. Buddy’s job is to find good values to pass on to the customer. His motto: “Good wine at good prices.” I was sure that it was better for Buddy not to be apprised of my wine/water Italian name mistake fiasco.

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I was treated to elegantly presented and intricately prepared delicious food. A new fork appeared with each new course which was carried on huge round trays. A pizza plethora was offered first. I especially enjoyed the pizza with mozzarella and three varieties of mushrooms (cremini, shitake, and oyster) and the prosciutto pizza garnished with fig relish and mozzarella cheese. This was my first encounter with pizza and figs served together.

Innovation also characterized the ravioli. Cheese ravioli was artfully presented on a bed of pulverized peas accented with lima beans. The soft succulent ravioli contrasted with the crisp flat bread grounding the beef carpaccio capped with the tastiest ever mint sprig.

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The crab cake appetizer was the highlight of the meal. The browned to perfection ball shaped bread crust encased a succulent perfectly seasoned crab concoction placed on a bed of field greens. This crab cake was to die for.

My waiter almost died laughing when he saw how I responded to the tuna and fennel presented  with a wooden stick filled container. The fact that the tuna morsel was meant to be skewered with one stick somehow escaped me. I took two sticks in hand, turned them in chopsticks, and successfully brought the slippery tuna to my mouth with the alacrity garnered from a lifetime of being a Chinese restaurant loving Jew. Although I do not know how to say “oy gevalt’” in Italian, the waiter most certainly uttered this locution as we both laughed in regard to the fact that Puttanesca is most certainly not a Chinese restaurant!  Sans further faux pas, I thoroughly enjoyed the Cornish hen with green peas and sea bass with zucchini.

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Desert consisted of additional first time for me concoctions: banana cheese cake and lady fingers with peppermint. These original culinary creations capped off a wonderful dinner which was consistently sophisticated, delicious, and innovative.  I felt uplifted to the extent that during my walk home, instead of focusing on the heat, I concentrated on the “way cool” inventive culinary masterpieces I was privileged to enjoy.

– Marleen Barr

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Puttanesca Restaurant
859 Ninth Avenue
corner of 56th street
New York, NY 10019

Images via Puttanesca Restaurant