Living in a city that boasts some of the most cutting-edge chefs in the worlds of fusion and nouvelle cuisines, it is easy to forget that we also have some of the best examples of traditional national cuisines as well. Trattoria Dopo Teatro is a stone’s throw away from Times Square, seemingly worlds away from the exotic culinary experimentation taking place in SoHo, TriBeCa, or the Lower East Side. That said, Trattoria ignores the stereotypes that befall many Italian restaurants in the city, which treat the phrase “fuhgeddaboudit” as being fundamental to the Italian-American experience, opting instead to wisely offer a truly authentic Italian dining experience.
Stepping into Trattoria is like wandering into a Tuscan eatery, decorated with posters not of Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone, but of the films of Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. With a name that translates into “restaurant after the theater,” Trattoria Dopo Teatro caters to the theater-going public, both residents and visitors. While it is high-end Italian dining, many of the patrons are dressed in casual or business casual, although it would make for a romantic date.
Eschewing anything offered at the fully-stocked bar, we immediately looked at its famous wine list. As we enjoyed the traditional rosemary bread with olive oil dip, I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and Chelsea ordered Riesling. Both generally rank among the sweeter white wines, but ours were more in the semisweet range. My Sauvignon Blanc held a note of citrus, while Chelsea’s Riesling tasted slightly of tart melon.
The other appetizer we ordered was the fried calamari. It was a remarkably generous portion, with lemon wedges on the side to give them some extra zing and a marinara dipping sauce. A classic appetizer, this entree-sized dish is unrivaled in being one of the best servings of fried calamari I’ve ever had.
Following our host Roberto’s suggestion, we ordered the Barolo-braised beef pappardelle and a red snapper filet. The snapper was deliciously paired with zucchini and a buttery sauce, flaky and plentiful.
The pappardelle dish was nothing short of amazing, an easy pick for a host’s recommendation. Barolo is a red wine known for its bold tannin-rich flavor, making it a perfect liquid to use in braising beef. The tannins react with the proteins in the meat, enhancing the flavors in each. The beef itself was incredibly tender, able to be cut with a fork, while the pappardelle was cooked al dente. Our entrees were paired with a somewhat unique wine: Lambrusco, which is a full-flavored sparkling red wine. While far from rare, sparkling reds are not common, so it was a delicious first for both of us.
For dessert, I was torn. My Sicilian heritage begged to taste the cannoli, but instead I opted for the lemon sorbet, favoring what promised to be a much lighter flavor after a decidedly heavy meal. It was a perfect mix of sugary sweetness and lemony tartness, like a good frozen lemonade. Chelsea had chocolate gelato (which is lower in fat and higher in sugar than regular ice cream) served with espresso on top. The heat of the espresso melted some of the gelato, making for a rich mocha-flavored soup to enjoy after the gelato was all gone.
For after-dinner drinks, Chelsea enjoyed the sweet hazelnut flavor of a Frangelico, served neat in a small brandy snifter. I went for something new, an apertif called Ramazzotti, an Italian bitter flavored with a galaxy of herbs. For those who enjoy bitter alcoholic drinks, it is a lot like Campari, only less sweet and with a slightly higher alcohol content.
As much as I will always enjoy trying new things and experiencing culinary innovations, there will be nights where I crave something a little more traditional. Even without that sort of craving, it is a perfect place for an elegant meal, either before or after a show in the Theater District. It is about as authentic as Italian food gets, and it’s certainly a better culinary experience than the “Italian” restaurant on the north end of Times Square. You know the one I’m talking about: the one that offers unlimited salad and breadsticks.
Photos by Chelsea Herman
Trattoria Dopo Teatro
125 West 44th Street