21 East 7th Street near 3rd Avenue, East Village, (212) 228-4923
Getting There: 6 to Astor Place; N,R,W at 8th Street-NYU
Restaurant Review: Porsena
There is a certain tasteful, traditional vibe inside the newly opened Porsena, an intimate, old-fashioned Italian eatery in the east village. Spawning from the creative mind of Porchetta chef Sara Jenkins, Porsena is a relatively small space that allows you to focus on taste and tradition rather than bells and whistles. And sometimes, a little re-focusing of what’s truly important at an establishment is all that’s needed to deliver terrific results.
On a block that’s rife with history (the eatery is just steps from McSorley’s Ale House), Porsena fits in impeccably. It’s unassuming signage and storefront camouflage into the street as if the restaurant has existed for years- just a quaint neighborhood mom and pop spot that looks as cozy as it is welcoming. Elongated spherical bulbs hang overhead, serving to illuminate the cork laden tabletops and accentuate the large framed pictures on the walls, depicting Italy’s rich history. The place’s casual atmosphere oozes throughout the stark décor allowing an evening here to be warm, without being pretentious- i.e. a fantastic recommendation for a first date.
With a supremely eclectic menu, Porsena is first and foremost a place for pasta. Topping the must-try items on the menu has to be the “lasagna al forno” ($18). Served in a medium sized clay bowl, the hearty dish is distinctive because of the fact that it’s simply not overly saucy. The delicious top is a perfectly crisp, almost brown to a burn, as the thick layer upon layered lasagna is filled in with savory meat ragu and parmigiano cheese. The bowl has is so subtly flavorful that it tastes completely homemade and left us wondering how we ever became used to the heavier, much saucier lasagna that we’ve grown accustomed to.
Just before tasting the lasagna, we nibbled on the “crostini” ($8), a thick, long piece of fresh bread topped with creamy and salted mozzarella cheese and bottarga di tonno (fancy name for fish roe). The combination was overwhelming and left us wishing we had ordered more than one piece.
After selecting some safer options to start out, we were determined to experiment further and for our Secondi, ordered the “red wine braised beef shin” ($25). Having never knowingly remembered tasting shin before, we were thrilled to be served a succulent, tender piece of meat that was literally falling off the bone. Served on a bed of creamy polenta and doused in herb butter, the meat danced back and forth with each chew in our mouth, wistful that each gulp would leave us with less to consume.
Overall, Porsena manages to overachieve by delivering some of the conventional domesticated niceties that simply are left out of most dining out experiences. Living in Manhattan, we sometimes overlook our yearnings for a delicious, home cooked meal. And while it might not be your mom cooking in the kitchen on East 7th Street, Porsena manages to make you feel right at home, right in the middle of their restaurant.