31 Cornelia St (btwn Bleecker/West 4th Sts)
It had been years since I’d been to Po—I believe Mario Batali was still at the helm then. His former partner, Steven Crane, now co-directs the honest, often soaring Italian fare along with Executive Chef Lee McGrath. After 18 years of being in business, the intimate results are still immensely satisfying.
Wine naturally began our progression. White Verdicchio di Matelica ($10/glass, $39/bottle) had a busy nose with a full palate of stone fruits, such as peach. The red Remole ($11/glass, $44/bottle) from Tuscany was a peppery blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet with a smooth finish.
White Bean Bruschetta ($2) as a starter was just a tease, with firm beans, balsamic, garlic, red chili flakes, and a burst of basil and rosemary amply spread across crostini. Tasty Po Cured Tuna ($13) was poached in olive oil and placed about a heap of frisee, radicchio, cannellini beans, raw artichoke slices, and chopped red onions with a wondrous drizzle of Spanish paprika oil and subtler parsley oil. Polpetta Di Carne ($12) a.k.a. meatballs were simply a-maz-ing! Were they pillows, I’d have rested my head and spent the night. Judiciously formed with perfectly moist ground lamb, beef and pork, they sat in a rich tomato sauce with simmered onions and basil that was just beyond.
The highlight of the dinner was White Bean Ravioli ($15), delivered in an envelope of sweet tomato pasta. The pockets filled with earthy beans in a tangy bath of balsamic brown butter were certainly good enough but when exquisitely paired with the ambient Nerello Mascalese ($10, glass/$39, bottle) red, redolent of black cherry, both wine and ravioli rose up together in sheer, lingering heaven.
Although the Porcini Crusted Cod ($22) featured fleshy, tender fish, alas the porcinis were burned—too disappointing! The boneless, pounded leg of juicy Guinea Hen ($20) having rested in a balsamic, mustard, black pepper and onion marinade, set us right again, served with fregola and sweet corn. Panna Cotta ($7) with sweetly tart amarena cherries and “Affogato” Coffee Gelato ($7), chilled cappuccino with chocolate caramel sauce, were both extraordinary.
What a pleasure to revisit Po!
First published in Next magazine.