When you live in a city like New York where restaurants come and go about as quickly as you blink, we tend to take for granted the places that have managed to remain in one spot for more than 15 minutes. Po, Steven Crane and Mario Batali's quaint Italian spot in the West Village, is definitely one of those places. Small and charming, Po boasts a simple menu that has been going strong for years, yet, I've never been there up until recently.
Alexis and I sat down in the small space (and I mean small) where I noticed that it's not overly decorated or anything, just clean white walls and simple white tablecloths. No muss, no fuss. I enjoy the fuss every now and then, but sometimes it's good to be low maintenance. That's how I would describe Po: effortlessly tasty. We started off with the white bean bruschetta, meatballs, and a portobello mushroom salad with arugula. The white bean bruschetta was crispy and garlicky, making it a perfect pre-appetizer, and the tomato sauce on the meatballs was amazing. I may be alone in this, but to me, the "red sauce" is the barometer for which good Italian food is measured. I've rarely gone to an Italian restaurant where the sauce was great and the rest of the food was bad. This sauce was savory and sweet, with that perfect bright red color hiding underneath pale strings of Caciocavallo cheese. Mmmm…drool.
Po has many, many pasta dishes on the menu that sound fantastic, but I'm indecisive and wanted to try an entree also, so Alexis and I split the pappardelle pasta with sweet corn and chorizo, and the grilled skirt steak with wax beans. I don't eat pasta as much as I used to, and in a way I'm glad about that because when it's dumbfoundingly delicious, I can enjoy it that much more. We were in love with this pasta, and that is no exaggeration. When we left, a few people asked what the pasta dish we shared was - apparently when you "mmm" and "oh my god" enough, people take notice. The perfectly cooked pasta was tossed with sweet, buttery corn, a few generous slices of chorizo, and parmesan cheese. I can't explain how good it was, so you really just need to try for yourself…or stare at the picture long enough and try to taste it.
The skirt steak was good, but the pasta was an incredibly tough act to follow, so we were a little underwhelmed by it. It was fine, but I think that the dollop of gorgonzola butter on top helped a lot (when does gorgonzola butter NOT help?). The desserts more than made up for it though; we had the vanilla panna cotta with amarena cherries, and the affogato. Here's the great thing about something as simple as affogato – it's your dessert and coffee all in one cup. Genius. Coffee gelato in a large glass filled with chilled cappuccino and a drizzle of chocolate-caramel sauce. If you love coffee, and more importantly, coffee gelato, then this has your name written all over it. Now, if you like things of the creamy confection (like Alexis does), then the panna cotta will satiate that craving. Probably one of the smoothest panna cotta's I've ever had, it was a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness from the cherries. Even I liked it a lot and I'm normally not a panna cotta person. Without trying too hard, there's a reason Po is still on the heavily congested Italian-restaurant map.