By Denise Mattia
New York’s my hometown. Still, when I’m in the Times Square area I’m surrounded by cartoon and Disney World characters and gawking tourists, who clump together like human barricades, the purpose of which leaves me puzzled. Whatever this place is, it’s not New York. Consequently, when I agreed reluctantly one evening to meet visiting friends here for dinner, I was hard pressed to find a restaurant, which had an uncrowded atmosphere without ear-splitting, mind-numbing sound.
The cuisine of my friends’ choice was Italian. Doing a quick search, I found that Buca di Beppo (the entrance is on 45th Street, steps east of Broadway) had taken over the third floor of Planet Hollywood and had been sectioned off into private areas. If anyone remembers what Tavern on the Green looked like, picture it replaced with very, very retro Italian American decor — red, white and green lights strung along endless corridors, homey pictures circa 1950 on the walls, red and white checkered tablecloths, red napkins — actually elegant in comparison to the chain-food eateries all along Times Square. Best of all we could sit and catch up over a reasonably-priced ($8) glass of house Pino Grigio.
Our salads came — one apple gorgonzola and one mixed green. The dressing was a perfect vinaigrette — not overly oily (it tasted like extra virgin olive oil). The small size ($8 and $7.50 pp) serves two or more and would make a substantial lunch. The large Fried Calamari ($5 pp) serves four. There’s a spicy sauce, which is served on the side, but when it’s good, tender and crispy fried, a little lemon is sufficient. It was all of those things.
Our bruschetta (a little steep at $17) came in a gigantic martini glass and was served with lightly oiled, crisp bread. Like the mini meatballs ($14) the dish is sharable.
Of the lasagnas, the chicken was more flavorful and lighter than the meat or vegetable (that was served with a heavy white sauce). The ricotta, mozzarella, provolone and parmesan cheeses don’t overpower the subtle marriage of chicken and lasagna pasta.
Of all the restaurants in the neighborhood, which serve desserts that send the healthiest into a diabetic coma, the special that evening was a plain devil’s food bunt cake with warm chocolate sauce inside, topped with ice cream and a raspberry sauce. It looked over the top and a few tastes I had were just the right amount of sweet after a meal.
With take-home bags beside the roomy table, we sat for a long time, talking and laughing, and I’d forgotten about the travesty Times Square has become.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.