The salumi-shop-cum-wine-bar—packed to the rafters with jarred sauces, dried pasta and dangling hams—may be the first New York market-restaurant that actually makes sense. In concept, Salumeria Rosi, the Upper West Side’s Italian answer to the local French charcuterie palace, Bar Boulud, is better suited as a casual drop-in spot than a plan-ahead destination—in reality, its 25 seats are almost always booked (this is the rare restaurant that takes reservations and probably shouldn’t).
The uptown sliver marks the Manhattan comeback of one of the city’s most beloved and eccentric food personalities, Italian chef Cesare Casella, whose last venue, the Tuscan-cowboy trattoria Maremma, never quite gained traction. For the new space—more coherent and inviting than Maremma—Oscar-winning film-set designer Dante Ferretti (Sweeney Todd) has transformed a parcel of real estate no bigger than a studio apartment into a fun house of black lacquered walls, with a gaudy fresco of Italy crawling up onto the ceiling. The chef, popping into the dining room to dole out cocktails and nibbles to friends, doubles as the manic, beaming front-of-house impresario.
Once you do manage to squeeze in, expect the sort of simple grazing fare you might sample at a well-catered party—a menu of assaggi (small plates), some fished from the display case near the door. Though priced between $5 and $7 apiece, the portions are so tiny that plowing through nine or ten dishes—as a hungry group easily can—quickly adds up.
A good rule of thumb: The more straightforward the dish, the more successful it’s likely to be. The famously legume-obsessed chef—he runs his own wholesale bean business—makes an outstanding white-bean farro soup that’s the perfect balm for a cold day. Traditional lasagna al forno is rich and meaty, with a delicious gratined crust—but in a portion so minuscule, you may be inclined to double your order. The signature insalata pontormo—a fine, hot-cold medley of soft-scrambled eggs, pancetta and mixed peppery greens—is far more appropriate as a serving of three or four bites.
Those very small plates are supplemented by a voluminous salumi selection from the Italian prosciutto producer Parmacotta. Though there are commendable dishes coming out of the kitchen, the artisanal meats—17 varieties delivered in gorgeous ribbons from a Berkel slicer—are probably the best reason to visit (try the prosciutto and mortadella).
The small selection of traditional desserts (wine-poached pear, honey-apple cake) and the rush to turn tables don’t invite lingering—unless you’re a pal of the gregarious chef (unavoidable for those who dine here often enough). In which case you may find yourself fending off complimentary moscato, or shots of tart limoncello. Those may be reasons enough to pop back in if you live in the ’hood, but not quite enough if you don’t.
Drink this: Aperol Spritz ($12), chilled grecante (a crisp pinot grigio alternative, $13)
Eat this: Salumi selection (chef’s choice, in small or large platters), traditional lasagna, zuppa di farro, insalata pontormo
Sit here: The counter seats looking into the kitchen are the best places to enjoy the Salumeria’s nibbles (and you won’t get dizzy staring at the undulating mirrored walls).
Conversation piece: Chef-owner Cesare Casella ran a similar grocery-restaurant years back in the old country. Partner Marco Rosi, the Italian salumi producer behind the meats in the deli case, cures prosciutto specifically for the restaurant. They go through more than a half dozen whole hams per week.