The doors have barely opened for the night, and diners have already crowded into Erbaluce. Not unusual for a restaurant in the theater district, where a hasty pre-play bite is the norm. But after quickly filling in, it doesn’t look like anyone is hurrying out of this plain room, prettied up by lots of twinkling candles and crisp white linens.
Owner-chef Charles Draghi has re-created Italian cuisine as progressive and healthy as it is eco-conscious in the few years since he opened Erbaluce, named for a Northern Italian wine grape. The restaurant eschews dairy-rich cooking, mostly using vegetable oils and meat juices in savory dishes.?And it employs vegetable and fruit purees rather than starchy roux-based sauces — something like Anton Mosimann’s cuisine naturelle.
Meats are indeed natural, fish and produce local and everything else organic where possible. The menu, which changes each night, is clearly dictated by market produce: Peaches are paired with prosciutto as a first course and make a gorgeous dessert stuffed with mascarpone and marzipan, barely sweetened with honey and grilled. Peaches are also the base for gelato flavored with mint flowers.
Bitter greens are cooked al dente and accompany a juicy bavette steak and the nasello, a locally caught hake that’s sweet and tender, and has a piquant sauce of pureed heirloom carrots.
The darkly colored iron-rich leaf is also mixed with a touch of ricotta to stuff pasta envelopes, which have a granular walnut pesto. Almond cream forms a base for a torte of wild blueberries flavored with juniper — a striking combination. It’s feel-good food that feeds the senses rather than dulls them.
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