Last week, I won a contest for myself and a guest to have a champagne toast and dinner at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina located inside Chelsea Market in NYC. The occasion was to celebrate the 75th birthday of founder and fresh pasta maestro, Giovanni Rana. The contest entailed answering three questions about Signore Rana’s life. The questions and answers were as follows:
1) What year was Giovanni Rana born?
2) Where was he born?
3) What is the name of the motorbike he used for his first deliveries?
When I received a Facebook message saying that I won, I was ecstatic, especially since I was a little under the weather over the weekend. Of course, my wife was my guest. It was her first time dining there and my second. My first experience was stellar and this time topped that. My wife and I were greeted warmly and immediately brought to our table. The hostess presented us with menus and told us to enjoy our time. As we were perusing the menu, our waiter came over to the table to introduce himself and asked if we had any preliminary questions. We didn’t. After a few minutes of trying to decide on our course of attack.
For our appetizers, my wife chose the Fennel & Root Vegetable Carpaccio. This dish was light and crisp. I loved the variety of vegetables. Autumn is the season for root vegetables. I picked a trio of the crostini, whose toppings included ricotta & portobello mushroom; celery root, sage, & lemon; and a ‘nduja, which is a spicy spreadable Calabrian salumi). When I saw ‘nduja on the menu, I was sold. That stuff is super addicting. All three toppings were excellent, but that ‘nduja was outrageous. Though I never did find out where they get it from. I’ll have to ask on a subsequent trip.
Since Giovanni Rana is known for his fresh pasta, we couldn’t have dinner and not try some of the pasta, all of which are made in house. My wife decided on the Autumn Greenmarket Vegetable Tortelli. The tortelli which are similar to ravioli were chock full of quick blanched vegetables. The sauce was creamy, though considerably light. I chose the pumpkin ravioli with Parmigiano-Reggiano & Toasted Sunflower Seeds. I’m a pumpkin addict this time of year. I fall for the all the pumpkin hype. So I had to try Signore Rana’s version of pumpkin ravioli. And, boy oh boy, was I glad I did. The ravioli was loaded with pumpkin puree and those signature pumpkin pie spices. This sauce was also creamy and quite light. They really let the pasta take center stage on the plate. I really enjoyed the addition of sunflower seeds. It gave a nice bite to the dish.
Between our pasta course and main course, Signore Rana came over to welcome us and have a glass of champagne with him. He was an extremely gracious host. Signore Rana is a jovial soul, who really loves his patrons. You can tell just by the way he looks at you when he speaks. He cares.
About this time, my wife & I agreed that we were both very happy with our dining choices, thus far. We were looking forward to the main courses. My wife ordered the Colorado Lamb Chops, Yellow Beets, & Brussels Sprouts. The lamb was cooked perfectly medium rare, the way my wife ordered it. The meat was juicy & tender, as lamb should be. The meat was great, but the star of the dish for me was the Brussels sprouts. I love Brussels sprouts. I will agree, they can be an acquired taste. Believe me, growing up I refused to eat them, but now I can’t wait for this time of year to have them in many different preparations. I went with the Roasted Breast of Chicken with Kale, Bacon & Sweet Potatoes. Since I am trying to be more cognizant of what I am eating, I do try to add more fish and chicken to my diet instead of beef. The roasted chicken was excellent. It, too, was juicy & tender. The kale puree was bright and fresh. And the sweet potatoes were crisp and sweet as sugar.
It was time for dessert. My wife & I were nearing the tipping point, but we knew we had to end the excellent dinner on a sweet note. My wife LOVES panna cotta. So when the waiter said that was on the menu, I knew my wife was choosing that. It was a Hazelnut Panna Cotta with White Chocolate & Passion Fruit. The dessert was layered with the panna cotta on the bottom, white chocolate above that and the passion fruit on top. Each layer individually was delicious, but together it was like fireworks in my mouth. My wife made a great choice. I am a huge Tiramisù fan. So I decided to have the Traditional Tiramisù. Tiramisù is said to have originated in the Veneto region of Italy, and since Signore Rana is from Cologna Veneta, which is also in the Veneto; I knew I couldn’t go wrong with the Tiramisù. I was right. It had a perfect balance of sweetness and a touch of bitterness from the espresso dipped savoiardi (lady fingers). The zabaglione was super rich and creamy. It was everything I look for in Tiramisù & then some.
To say we had amazing dining experience from start to finish might be a bit of an understatement. We were truly treated like family, minus the unlimited salad & breadsticks, who needs that stuff when you’re feasting on fresh housemade pasta. Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina is definitely one of my favorite places to dine in NYC. I will certainly be back soon and will continue to spread the good word about the great things being created in Signore Rana’s NYC flagship kitchen. So if you’re in the mood for fresh pasta, you have to add this restaurant to your list. Enjoy.
Living to eat,