Last week, chef Sara Jenkins opened Porsena - her rustic Italian homage to pasta - a few blocks down the street from her East Village breakout hit Porchetta. Jenkins chronicled the ins and outs of this opening for The Atlantic, covering everything from sourcing dry pastas to creating the wine list. Has her fastidiousness paid off? Will Porsena continue the Jenkins love-fest or will the diners amble back to Porchetta for the sandwiches they already know and love? To the Early Word:
The "Get The Lasagna" News: On Yelp, Justine H. pens this stream of consciousness rave for Jenkins' lasagna. "sara jenkins delivers. she delivers HARD. individually baked portions in terra cotta, the waiter delivers it to the table with a warning.. "very hot plate." SILENCE! i'm about to dive in.
the cheese bubbles. the fork slips in.i pull away a bite size portion. the remainder of the lasagna is still intact. the lasagna has not been ruined by the first tug of the fork. justine is pleased and amazed.
take bite. smile.
chews. eyes light up.
chews more. glands begin to leak saliva.
oh my silky lasagna noodles. give me more.
looks over at dining companion. [he is enjoying it at least as much as i am]. danger, justine, danger..
quickly swallows. [no pause]
fork dives in again.
The Great but AL DENTE News: Blog The New New Yorker visits with a vegetarian friend and both of them love their pastas. "Jay moved on to his vegetarian pasta choice, Penette Col Cavolfiore. Small penne pasta with roasted cauliflower, olives, capers, garlic, and toasted breadcrumb. Super solid dish. Looked great with the toasted breadcrumbs crust on top and tasted great, too. Big thumbs up from Jay. For me, I have one dish I measure any good Italian restaurant on - Vongole. So I had to have it. Sara’s is top notch. Word of caution, she serves her pasta in the very traditional Roman al dente style. And I mean AL DENTE. A lot of people will say it needs to be cooked for about two more minutes. Not me. You actually have to chew the pasta it’s got so much tooth. That’s the way it should be to me. If you like wet, sloppy noodles, don’t get this, you’ll be bummed. I found myself wishing for a tad more garlic taste, but I’m a garlic whore. One more thing, her pastas don’t swim in sauce (or in my case oil) and I love that. Just enough to sop up at the end with a few scraps of that awesome bread. I’d put her vongole up there with Celeste’s (on the UWS) which is amazing and Bar Pitti’s as well which is just a step below Celeste’s." [The New New Yorker]
The Pretty Good News: An Eater commenter files this report: "My wife and I ate there last night. We had the wilted escarole salad, pasta al ragu, lasagna, and panna cotta. The salad was well seasoned and I was happy to find a chunk of garlic in there. :) The ragu was really good, and the lasagna will definitely satisfy my lasagna cravings. The panna cotta was also surprisingly good (albeit small) with a texture unlike any panna cotta I've had before. Wine selection is limited at the moment. Aside from a problem with credit card processing and service that could be more attentive, I'd say it was a very satisfying opening night and we'll be back for sure." [Eater Comments]
The Really Bad News: Yelper Doreen X. has the sole slam on the restaurant's page, and ends her review by calling Jenkins out directly for Porsena possibly being a bit premature. "Firstly, Porsena is poorly laid out. For no particular reason, there are two separate dining rooms. As for the tables themselves, they're a rather tight squeeze, so seating requires moving both your and your neighbor's table. Porsena still exudes that sandwich shop atmosphere, even though it's masquerading as a sit-down restaurant. Moving on to the food -- which could've saved this review -- Jenkins continued to disappoint. My convive and I ordered simply since Porsena aspires to be a hole-in-the-wall with home-cooked traditional entrees. It's supposed to be what you could make in the kitchen, but better. Alas, no. The pasta al pomodoro is a standard tomato, basil, and parmigiano spaghetti. With such few ingredients in this dish, I expected them to individually shine. It was not to be: GARLIC overwhelmed and cheapened this poorly executed pasta. The pasta al ragu also disappointed: the meat ragu to maccheroncini ratio was stingy and more aptly described as a sprinkling of ground lamb on plain pasta. Finally, both pastas were undercooked by at least two minutes since they were uncomfortably crunchy. I'm an average cook at best, but even I have made better tomato-basil and meat ragu pastas. Finally, service -- maybe better summed up as "what service?"...Chef Jenkins, are you really ready for a sit-down restaurant? [Yelp]
The Mostly Good News: The one review on Chowhound is a mostly positive one: "I arrived at 6:30pm and was seated at the bar. Most of the tables and half the 2-seaters were taken. I had the fresh mozzarella crostini which was decent. No liquor license yet but the wine was complimentary (I don't drink). The waitress warned me when I ordered that the lasagna would take 20 minutes but it took more than 45 minutes after my appetizer for it to arrive. The person next to me also had his pasta entree delayed. The lasagna with a lamb/beef/pork ragu was really good. The dish made it piping hot through the meal. I was like in an alternate universe as I ate it, not noticing people around me or pausing to tweet about it. The pistaschio panna cotta had a mousse texture and it came with a strange peanut and dark chocolate brittle. Service was efficient but cold. I woud come back on my next trip." [CH]
The Twitterific News: The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck somehow fit inside the restaurant to deliver a rave tweet, "we ate at Porsena on Monday. Not disappointed! It reminded me that I could eat fennel until it's declared endangered.", Mitchell Davis highlights the mac and cheese, "Among the many things to love about Sara Jenkins new Porsena, these pasta in a "sea of cheese"...", count BaoPhac Do as another fan of the lasagna, "I just got out of the Porsena lasagna eating trance. The lamb/beef/pork ragu is so good.", and Heather Gallagher attended opening night by chance, "Stumbled on the opening of Porsena, loved it! Great wait staff, excited to get to see Sara Jenkins, and free wine! Loved the clams :)".