This is probably not a new find for most of you. But, 'inoteca continues to be a great destination for all occasions. This Lower East Side wine bar will always be a special spot for me. Nearly two years ago, my sister and I threw our mother a surprise birthday party in their wine cellar. Any restaurant that can accommodate and survive an invasion of nearly 30 southerners deserves serious recognition. While we managed to provide our own entertainment, the food, wine, and service were perfect for the party. The evening started with passed bruschetta and prosecco and was followed by a seated family style meal with endless wine. There are few places that could host this kind of event and also be the type of place that you stop into without a reservation. This past weekend reminded me that 'inoteca can flawlessly meet up to both of these challenges.
A friend and I had spent the earlier part of the night down by the newly rennovated amphitheater on the east river. This is an awesome space that we should all know about and take advantage of more often. I felt completely transplanted from the city - realizing that there are actually events in New York that are free! However, I think its proximity to the LES projects is probably the reason that it is not a more frequented destination. But, both the waterfront setting and music proved to be well worth the "interesting" trek to and from the venue. Have you ever heard of Pitt St., Willett St., or Lewis St.? I am still not fully convinced that we were even really in Manhattan! After enjoying a couple hours of an Afro beat/funk band, we had worked up an appetite and decided to head north until we started recognizing street names again. Thankfully, Ludlow was one of the first we happened upon.
There are so many restaurants scattered throughout the LES - some crowded, others less. On a Friday night, I recommend avoiding any restaurant where there isn't a short wait. Anywhere in NYC, especially in a neighborhood full of endless choices, it's just not worth settling for an average meal! 'Inoteca falls into the crowded category, and for good reason. The restaurant really does accommodate an assortment of people - groups celebrating birthdays, couples stopping by for a drink and/or small bite at the bar, those who had reserved in advance, and then, people like us - those who has no idea they were going to end up there just a few moments earlier. Since it was one of those nights where we were seeing where the night took us, we didn't mind waiting at all. 'Inoteca is perfectly set up for unseated parties. Joined by another friend at this point, we secured a spot at one of the many bars surrounding the restaurant and enjoyed their refreshing prosecco and white wine.
The highlight of the wait was discovering a new type of Italian wine - Soave (a dry white wine from the Veneto region). Not recognizing most of the wines on the list, we turned to our waiter for advice. What I appreciated most about his recommendation was that he did not suggest the most expensive wines on the menu. Not only was his choice extremely affordable, but it was delicious - and as he described it, carrying hints of lemon zest. It was also the perfect wine to bring to the table and enjoy with our food. Because it had been awhile since I had been to 'inoteca (and the menu has not changed), we ordered most of my old favorites - an assortment of paninis and salads. These included a salad of beets with orange, mint, and hazelnuts, grilled calamari salad with roasted tomatoes and olives, a prosciutto, fig and gorgonzola panini, and a grilled mushroom, mozzarella, pesto and spinach panini. I cannot say that I had a favorite since they were all totally different and delicious (the paninis, perfectly toasted), but I really did appreciate the small gesture of cutting each panini into three parts for us. Since we just could not get enough of the enjoyable setting (we had a prime location for people-watching), dessert seemed to be the easy way to prolong the meal. The mixed fruit plate, made up of fresh figs, plums, and peaches accompanied with creme fraiche, was a nice, light finish to an oddly, humid September evening.
By the time we finally left 'inoteca, we realized we had been there for nearly 4 hours! Time truly does fly when you are in a fun setting, with great friends, and indulging in wonderful food and wine. While I do love to try out new places, it is certainly comforting knowing that I can return to my old favorites and be as satisfied as ever. Whether you spend months planning an event there or happen upon it randomly one night, 'inoteca always promises an eventful and memorable night.
98 Rivington St
New York, NY 10002-2202