Named after a Pompeii hostess known for her hospitality, Asellina is as trendy as its location – on the border between Gramercy and Murray Hill, adjacent to the Ganservoot Park hotel. On the night we were there, there was a constant stream of young, hip and beautiful people pouring in and out of a pool party, which took place on the hotel’s rooftop. Since Asellina’s typical menu is a little pricy for people on a budget, we went for the affordable Sunday Supper prix fixe – $35 for a three-course meal, with several choices for each course (plus a 50% off all bottles of wine): this will allow you to experience Asellina’s hip city feel, without angering your credit card.
The food, like the décor and the atmosphere, maintain a healthy and hard-to-achieve balance between simple and fancy: the dishes are generously portioned and involve basic and fresh ingredients, but they add enough creativity to their flavors and presentation, so Asellina doesn’t feel like a commonplace Italian restaurant. A good example of this balance would be the carpaccio. A classic Italian appetizer, Asellina’s carpaccio was clearly fresh and flavorful, but what elevated the dish was the decision to top it – rather than with the standard arugula and capers – with mache greens, artichoke pieces and a hint of roasted tomatoes (of course, the parmesan was still there, too – after all, it’s an Italian restauarant). All the toppings were subtle enough in quantity and flavor that none overpowered the actual carpaccio.
Asellina takes pride in their home-made pasta, and rightfully so – even the basic spaghetti with tomato sauce was delicious and satisfying, with the pasta served at a perfect al dente. The lamb meatballs were well-made, and the Buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad was delicate and refreshing. But no doubt, the most memorable part of the meal was the dessert — their signature basil Panna Cotta, served with a scoop of – wait for it – tomato sorbet.
The Panna Cotta itself was delicious, and a perfect dessert for a large meal – light, not too sweet, and with a wonderfully natural basil flavor. Even the green color of the Panna Cotta, usually not the most appetizing, added a playful touch to the dessert. And then there’s the tomato sorbet. Taken a bit too literally, the sorbet tastes exactly like frozen tomatoes – which is interesting, and unlike anything else — but it might have worked better as a palate-cleanser in between courses. All in all, though, for $35, you definitely your money’s worth.
Finally, Asellina makes good use of its spacious interior: the tables are not too close to one another (a rarity in New York!) and there are several private spaces of different sizes and arrangements – including a beautiful back garden – thus making the restaurant a great place for both dates and larger outings.
Asellina, 420 Park Avenue South (between 28th and 29th St), http://togrp.com/asellina/, 212-317-2908, N/R to 28th St, 6 to 28th St, Mon-Thur 7am-11pm, Fri-Sat 7am-11:30pm, Sun 7am-10pm.