Monday, January 23, 2012

Paola's Restaurant—Inconspicuous Italian


I had no idea the treat I was in for as I settled into eat at Paola's with a very dear old friend of mine. I had been in New York for almost two weeks working on the grueling task of emptying a wreck of an apartment while staying at a friend's place. On my walk between the apartments I unwittingly passed Paola's every day, never noticing it behind its subdued facade. When my friend suggested it I was surprised at the address she gave, "Really? It's on 92nd and Madison?" certain there must be an error.

Low and behold, the address was correct and Paola's, whose entrance is on 92nd Street, not Madison (which explains how I missed it—sort of) is a sizable restaurant specializing in Italian food. Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant is abuzz with people so reservations are recommended.

What many of the customers are likely unaware of is Paola's commitment to using fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. While the political issues of local food are understood, it is the freshness, quality and taste that drive the restaurant to prepare as much of its dishes with New York produced ingredients as it can. 

Vegetables and seasonal fruits come from the Union Square farmer's market (worth a trip if you have never been), as does some of the meat. One of the owner's of Paola's works some land in upstate New York, producing a small amount of vegetables for the restaurant and the future goal is for the restaurant to have its own farm where the restaurant can source a high percentage of its food.

Diners looking for gluten-free options will find plenty at Paola's including gluten-free pasta on request as well as specialty dishes that are senza gluten. My dish samplings included sumptuous spinach and ricotta on a bed of house-made tomato sauce and delectable grilled artichokes— a house specialty with origins from Rome's Jewish ghetto where fried artichokes are still a popular delicacy. The Carciofi alla giudía (Jewish-style artichokes) have a taste and texture not ordinarily experienced with this edible thistle—crunchy and succulent—it leaves you wanting more, as it should be.

While Paola's is not for those on a tight budget, you can certainly eat for under $30 if you order one course, but I warn you it is hard to only have one.

1295 Madison Avenue (entrance on 92nd Street)
New York City, NY 10128
Open for Lunch: 11:00 am to 4:00 pm; Dinner: 4:30 pm to 11:00 pm
Prices: Antipasti $12-18; Pastas $20-22; Main/Secondi $22-40; Brunch $12-26