Back in March, my friend Kara and I tried to go to Porsena for dinner but, for reasons still unknown, couldn’t find it. After walking up and down the street more times than I care to admit, we convinced ourselves that it must be closed on Monday nights (it isn’t) and went to Peels instead. Ever since, I’ve been determined to eat there. So, when my brother was in town last Friday, I decided to take him to Porsena. Provided it wasn’t actually invisible, I figured it’d be the perfect spot for a “meet my new boyfriend” dinner. Plus, my brother’s allergic to the world and can pretty much only eat out at Italian restaurants. Two good excuses to go.
Tom wasn’t getting in until after 8 so I made a 9:30 reservation, in case I couldn’t find the restaurant again. #Planningahead. Turns out, 21 East 7th Street very much exists so we were right on time, and then proceeded to wait 45 minutes for a table. The host was apologetic, explaining over and over again that people were lingering, but didn’t offer us anything. No free dessert, no free round of drinks at the bar…come to think of it, he didn’t even suggest we wait at the bar. We did that on our own. I wouldn’t have minded as much if our reservation was at, say, 7:30, but we didn’t end up eating until almost quarter to 11. They should’ve made that up to us somehow.
We were so hungry by the time we were seated (we were actually considering eating the oranges on display at the podium) that the entire menu sounded amazing. After talking ourselves down from ordering one of everything, Tom settled on the Palermo market salad (romaine, cucumber, red onion, lemon, and oregano) and Nick and I decided to split the mussels and the olive oil-poached baby octopus to start. As Tom so eloquently put it when I asked him to take a picture of his salad, it was pretty much just “lettuce on a plate.” But he wanted something simple and healthy, so it was fine. The mussels, cooked in saffron and white wine and served with garlic toast, were delicious. Light and fresh. Nick thought the octopus had too much going on but I liked it; it had an almost charred flavor that I thought went well with the celery, chick peas, and olives. I agree with him, though, that it could’ve done without the orange slices.
Since Porsena is billed as a pasta-centric restaurant we all skipped the entrées and ordered our main courses from the “pasta” section of the menu. Tom got the pasta al ragu (maccheroncini with slow-cooked meat ragu) and Nick and I both got the anneloni con salsiccia e rape (ring-shaped pasta, spicy lamb sausage, and mustard greens). I didn’t try Tom’s dish but it looked awesome, with the sauce more meat than tomato. Mine was incredible. Anneloni has ridges on the inside of the loop, kind of like a backward rigatoni, so the sauce sticks to the pasta better. Each bite was chock full of creamy sauce, with a kick from the spicy sausage and bitter greens. And the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, the way I like it best. Sooo good.
We were stuffed after scarfing down our meals so we passed on dessert but, in retrospect, I wish I’d ordered the chocolate walnut torta caprese. Seriously, how good does that sound? Regardless, I really enjoyed my meal. I obviously would’ve preferred to be seated on time but, besides that mishap, the service was good, very attentive. And the prices were extremely fair, especially on the wine list (most bottles were in the $30–$40 range). The restaurant itself is cute, a little cramped but cozy. It feels just like somewhere you could happen upon in Trastevere, with food to match. Definitely a good spot for a casual meal with friends or family.
Kara, one day I’ll show you that Porsena isn’t, in fact, like that place in Harry Potter that only wizards can see. And we’ll eat there together and it’ll be fabulous.
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