21 East Seventh St (Third Ave)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 228-4923
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Area: East Village
Payment: Amex Visa Mastercard
Porsena is two long, narrow rooms with bars and with warm red wainscots The food is creative and terrific with some smaller plates designed for sharing. Chef Sara Jenkins has carved out a great spot with some high-tops and other regular height tables, all well-spaced for pleasant conversation.
Tasting wine is encouraged, always a nice touch whether you're opting for a bottle or glass. After trying several others, I ended up with the tenuto from Puglia which our waiter initially recommended and found it a great choice to compliment the wonderful appetizers and fabulous pasta. Bread is good with exceptional olive oil provided for dipping. The wilted escarole salad turns up dotted with big, crunchy, uneven croutons, a testament to being made in-house, topped by a warm dressing with a strong anchovy flavor.
Samoush, phyllo triangles with walnuts and other good stuff inside, are Persian by design that translates to vaguely Moroccan in taste, sitting in a puddle of tomato-colored sauce. Different vegetables --green beans, radishes, artichokes--pop up crafted into small plates with a twist and the spicy winter greens get a kick from horseradish, a cooling from crème fraiche and an unusual note from tangerine.
Pastas shine here, especially the anneloni, a ring shape I've never eaten elsewhere that captures a lot of the the spicy crumbled lamb sausage, mustard greens, touch of cream, and bread crumbs on the inside of the rings. It's a clever take that makes for delicious mouthfuls. Pennette is sauced with Brussels sprout leaves, pancetta and thyme while there are a healthy amount of clams in the Pasta Vongolo that carries a hit of red pepper. If you insist on steering clear of carbs,(although that would be a shame as those on offer are so good), you could order the roast half chicken, daily fish preparation, or a fine hanger steak with anchovy butter.
For dessert, we dove into the lemon olive oil cake served with a generous dollop of lemon curd. The chocolate walnut torte is popular as is the panna cotta with pistachio-chocolate bark.
The restaurant actually feels like a small place in a Tuscan town with helpful, polite service from casually black-clad staff. Food packs lots of flavor in an atmosphere that encourages diners to sit comfortably and soak in a great experience.
Besides the lengthy all-Italian wine list, beer is available as well as a range of coffee preparation and tea. Reservations are welcome as are credit cards. I could cheerfully eat here twice a week.
Review By: Mari Gold