A legacy that started Grandma Sora Lella 50 years ago in Tribena Island, the old part of Rome, Italy, continues four generations later in America. The new location, with its open French windows and doors, just like the open arms of grandmother welcoming all, sits on New York’s Spring Street in SoHo. This is a place where they make their customers really happy, so I now want to be its ambassador with the mission to make all New Yorkers Sora Lella’s fans. At Sora Lella, you will experience a style of cooking full of history going back to the beginning of Roman times. Each dish has had thousands of years to be painstakingly perfected.
Portraits of Grandma, Sora Lella, her brother Aldo Fabrizi, and other family and friends’ pictures in black and white hang on the warm-toned yellow walls. Bottles of Roman wines stand guard on the surrounding ledges. Tomasso, a very talented bartender from Milan, mixes drinks and performs one miraculous trick after another. At the bar, one can sip through the drinks and have some finger-licking good homemade snacks while watching him do his tricks. During our dinner, most of those patrons at the bar returned; within a couple of hours they came back. I had the Moscow Basil, which is like a mojito but with basil. I could not have enough of it. My friend had the Soo Fresh, and told me that it was an explosion of flavors. Both are original creations of the bartender Tomasso, who told us that his inspiration for mixing drinks comes from friends and or the kitchen. Tomasso said that sometimes the chef comes to him with a dessert or food and asks him to create a drink.
The feeling at Sora Lella, is like being at home—very comfortable, with friendly, attentive service. During the meal, I was constantly reminded of my best friend’s mother, an Italian who though an excellent cook, did not speak any English. We used to sing the following song, “Arrivederci Roma, Fettucini, Vino de Castelli” which means, goodbye Rome, fettucini and wine of the castles. I don’t want to say goodbye Roma. I want to say, “We’re happy to see Roma in New York!” An elegant menu with Sora Lella’s portrait on the cover and the watermarks of the portrait on each page has a few sections: appetizers, pasta, mains courses, and desserts and comprises traditional Roman dishes carefully prepared and selected. Everything is prepared in house, including the pastas, flavored olive oils, and vinegars. The menu changes according to availability of perfect ingredients. Allow yourself time to enjoy this slow-cooked food.
For appetizers we had the “Terrina Fredda di Melazane e Gamberei,” eggplant-shrimp terrine with thyme served with arugula and orange salad with a 32-year-old balsamic reduction. The terrine was very light and smooth with balanced flavors of sweet and salty. We then had two of Aldo’s creations. One, a 3,000-year-old dish that looks modern, is Caprese with Mozzarella de Buffalo. This caprese was unlike any other I have ever had. A brilliant creation, the tomato looked like a gel in a round mold, stuffed with buffalo cheese, topped with cracked Himalayan salt and vanilla, and in between these two gently sits a little scoop of pesto, the colors representing that of the Italian flag. Try the two together. Wonderful! I loved the contrast of flavors and textures. It is Sora Lella’s philosophy to create the same thing but not in the same way. Papettine della “Nanna,” veal meatballs Grandma-style, stood out. Inside, the bread is soaked in wine, the meat is mixed with many herbs, onions, lemon zest, and parsley and then mixed together while tomato sauce in a blend of fresh vegetables, with pine nuts and raisins. I use raisins and nuts in my own cooking and love it; the crunchiness of the roasted nuts with the softness and sweetness of raisins complement the sauce and the meat.
When in New York, do as the Romans do—have pasta in between meals. My favorite is the traditional Roman Paccenri “al Amatriciana,” made with 20 different ingredients. As I took the first bite, I thought I had gone to the summit and was not coming back down, because every bite after that kept me there. The sauce is cooked for a long time to enhance the flavors of the many ingredients, each standing alone and well-defined. A bit of heat seeps through that was both gentle and refreshing, a reminder that I had to return to earth. Some of these ingredients are almost impossible to find, like the smoked bacon that comes only from Alto Alge region of Northern Italy. Try the gnocchi, which is nothing like you have ever tasted in your life and topped with loads of black pepper with grape tomatoes, olive, and vegetable stock. It had an amazing consistency very smooth like silk and delicious.
You have not eaten Roman food if you have not had a taste of the famous Abbacchio disassto brasat farcito con carciofi, pecorino e erbe aromatiche, boneless roasted milk-fed baby lamb stuffed with artichokes, pecorino cheese, and aromatic herbs. We were told that they go through one whole lamb a day, and they just opened in New York. The story, according to Fabio, goes back to the days when shepherds with their stick (the baculuum), would take their sheep to graze in the wilderness. The shepherd would find a green spot filled with many herbs that would be good for the sheep. He would then plant the baculuum in the middle of the spot, tie the sheep to the stick with the rope allowing enough distance for them to eat the grass around the stick. The result is a heavenly dish made on earth. The meat so tender it melts in the mouth. The meat is wrapped around the artichokes giving a nutty flavor enhanced by the herbs laced with a sauce made with different types of fruit juices, herbs, fresh tomatoes with balsamic vinegar, and marsala.
A list of carefully selected Roman wines is available to be enjoyed with all this wonderful food. Desserts and gelati are all made in-house by the same chef, the old fashioned way. He has an amazing array of unbelievable creations. He uses old-fashioned jam to complement certain desserts like the Tarta di Ricotta with bitter cherry jam or the crumbly butter almond cake with bitter orange jam. We opted for the interesting gelato. The Gelato di Zabaione con Aceto Balsmicodi Modena Invecchiato, Marsala wine, and whipped egg yolks ice cream with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar from Modena. Who would have thought to put these together? It was fabulous. If you are one who likes nuts, chocolate, and fruit, try the Salame di Cioccolato Guarnito con Mandorie Croccanti, Salsa al Caramello e il suo Sobetto, chocolate salami roll, crunchy almonds, dry cookies, and caramel sauce served with chocolate sorbet, which brought nostalgic and fond memories of my childhood, because my mother used to make it the same way.
If you are too full or just want an after dinner drink, have Tomasso make you this very tasty and unusual dessert drink, Vacance Romane with postaccio ice cream and basil leaves together with Cointreau and vodka.
Welcome to America, Sora Lella.
300 Spring Street, N.Y.
Web site: soralella.com
Hours: 7 days a week
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Happy Hour with apperative: 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Dinner: 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
There is a special lunch and a brunch menu
Appetizers and Soups: $9.50 to $ 24
Pasta: $17.50 to $22
Entree: $20 to $36
Dress Code: casual
Major credit cards accepted