I have a confession to make: I have a slight obsession with Italian food.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might have figured it out from the time I was obsessing over the Florentine Steak and gelato in Florence, or maybe you were tipped off when I wrote about the fresh mozzarella that I devoured in Rome.
You might have also noticed my obsession when I talked about Italian food being the reason I spent two days in Pisa, or perhaps you read about my Italian food obsession when I talked about New York City’s real Little Italy.
Whatever it was that led you to discover that nothing makes me happier then eating a bowl of pasta while sipping a glass of wine and then finishing my meal off with a delicious gelato, you will understand my reasoning for wanting to take an Italian food tour in New York City. I just cannot get enough, and luckily for me, our tour guide Simona from Rome stated at the beginning of the tour that she had an obligation to do what all good Italians do: keep feeding us.
The food tour began at the Washington Square Arch in the heart of Greenwich Village. What better place to start a tour than an area of New York City that has a long culinary history?
Where It All Began: The Story of Mario Batali
Simona started the Mario Batali food tour by telling us a few fun facts that I was unaware of. The first was that Mario Batali, despite his Italian-sounding name, is not Italian. The second interesting fact was that Mario is actually from Seattle, not New York City, as I had previously thought. Despite Mario being neither Italian or a New Yorker, he has become one of New York City’s most famous Italian chefs.
Professionally trained in a small restaurant in the northern region of Italy, Mario learned the fine art of real Italian cooking using the freshest ingredients from each region of Italy. He had dreams of starting his own restaurant in New York City, and in 1993, he opened Pó with partner Steven Crane. The restaurant became very successful and landed Mario on a show on Food Network, where his career began to blossom.
A few years later in 1998, with business partner Joe Bastianich, Mario opened Babbo, New York City’s first Italian restaurant to earn a Michelin star. Still located on 110 Waverly Place in New York City (around the corner from Washington Square Park), Babbo has consistently provided an outstanding for experience for its patrons.
Eat Your Heart Out
Unfortunately the tour does not stop to eat Babbo, so we headed over to OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, Mario Batali’s famous pizza restaurant where we had the antipasto (‘before the meal’) course, which consisted of carne (meat), three types of formaggi (cheese), verdura (vegetables), insalata (salad), and bruschetta.
Although the antipasto course is meant to be a light way to start your Italian eating, it made me pretty full, which surprised me since the eating had just begun. My two favorite parts of the antipasti course at OTTO were the tomato and arugula salad, whose tomatoes were baked to perfection and had a light layer of olive oil drizzled on top of it, and the ricotta cheese, which was light and airy (and as it turns out, good for dieting).
Simona went on to tell us more facts about Italian food, and made me wish that I would have taken a cooking class or food tour in Italy. Some of the things I learned included the fact that Italian cheese, unlike other cheeses around the world, is not vegetarian friendly; there are often animal byproducts used in the process of making of Italian cheeses. Another thing she told us was to NOT eat parmesan cheese, which is a mixture of all kinds of strange non-cheese things. Instead, consumers should purchase Parmigiano-Reggiano which comes from the Parma region of Italy. Finally, I learned that chicken and pasta are not meant to be eaten together in Italian food. Ever.
What about Chicken Alfredo? Yup, not Italian; it is an Italian-American creation.
The next stop on the food tour brought us to Mario’s restaurant Osteria Lupa Romana, a restaurant that specializes in Roman food.
At Osteria Lupa Romana, we had our primo (first) course, which consisted of Ricotta Gnocchi. Traditionally, gnocchi is stuffed with potatoes, but Mario created something new and spectacular: gnocchi stuffed with ricotta cheese. I cannot even put into words how amazing the dish was, but I can say that if I was not on a food tour, I would have asked for another bowl.
After I was finished licking the last drops of fresh tomato sauce off of my fork, we were told that we would be moving to our next restaurant, Pagani, where would have meat and more pasta. Unlike the previous restaurants we had visited on the tour, Pagani is not owned by Mario Batali.
Pagani was named after O. Pagani & Brothers music store, which originally used to stand in the location of the current restaurant. Opened by the Lusardi Group, Pagani serves affordable Italian dishes from different regions in Italy.
We started with cured meats and bread with Italian olive oil while we waited for our lemon pasta to be prepared. We learned about how real Italian olive oils are created and how to tell which ones are really Italian and which ones are not. We then ate the lemon pasta made from lemon juice and flour and it was magnifico!
Sadly, our tour was drawing to an end as we left Pagani and headed around the corner to Dolce Gelato, a gelateria that has made headlines in the past couple of years for their spaghetti gelato. Dolce Gelato makes delicious handmade artisanal gelato on premises, and boy is it yummy!
More about the Official Mario Batali™ Greenwich Village Food Tour: “Created in collaboration with renowned chef Mario Batali, our exclusive New York food tour explores local Greenwich Village eateries, including tastings at not one, but two of chef Batali’s Italian restaurants.”
Thank you to Walks of New York for providing a complimentary food tour for me and a guest. All opinions (especially about pasta and gelato) are my own. If you are interested in booking this Mario Batali tour, you can visit the Walks of New York website, and make sure to mention that I sent you!