Salumeria Rosi is one of the late Anthony Bourdain’s haunts on the Upper West Side, known for its Salumi and small plates. Originally, the restaurant was a joint venture between chef Cesare Casella and the Rosi family of Parma, owners of the Parmacotto ham company. Chef Cesare left the business a couple years back, and its famous patron has since passed on. I went for lunch on a cold autumn day to find out if Salumeria Rosi was still an authentic slice of Italy in the heart of New York City.
There is a cold cuts counter to the left of reception, behind which is the semi-open kitchen which takes up a third of the floor space. I was seated at a nice corner table by the window – a perfect location to watch angry New Yorkers rush by during their lunch break. A bread basket and a ramekin of exquisite extra virgin olive oil was brought to my table while I perused the simple, two-page menu – a large variety of cold dishes, and smaller selections of pastas and meats. I decided on a Negroni Sbagliato for an aperitif and awaited in anticipation for my food to arrive.
I chose a trio of cold meats: an 18-month aged prosciutto de Parma, mortadella and bresaola, the last of which is a guilty pleasure of mine. Oh, were they glorious! The prosciutto was not dissimilar to the hams that I had at Hosteria Giusti in Modena, a little shop I still sometimes have dreams about. Unfortunately, with these meats came a single artichoke that was neither peeled properly nor worth its seven dollar price tag. That was a slight disappointment, which in the grand scheme of things did little to mar the experience of eating delicious and authentic Italian meats in America.
For my main course I ordered Rigatoni al Amatriciana, a Roman pasta made with tomato sauce and chopped cured meats. This was a comedy of errors. The cured meat sauce did not have enough cured meat, and whatever tiny morsels that I had to frack from between the rings of (admittedly, almost al dente) pasta were soggy and bland. It did not invoke nostalgic memories of my Italian sojourns as much as it reminded me of the Spag Bol in the café at the north end of the Waterloo Bridge. That the pasta was $29 did nothing to soothe my pain, and that I was only given salt and pepper shakers just as I was about to finish my meal was really helpful.
The bill came to $100 including tax and tip, and considering I did not stay for pudding, this was absolutely outrageous. The service was brusque – how I imagine a European Union official would be treated by a member of the Five Star movement. Phrases such as “sit wherever you want” and “you done with this”, along with the constant interjections of “How is the food? Good?” are not what one would expect from restaurant serving staff in the UK. Maybe this is the New York way and I’m just too foreign or too circumspect or too timid to understand. Maybe they were just being friendly. Nobody was being offensive or anything, so I guess that’s good enough? Congratulations, Salumeria Rosi, you’ve made the customer feel like they’re the one at fault.
I really wanted to like Salumeria Rosi. The atmosphere was relaxing, the music was well-chosen and unobtrusive, and the dining room décor was modern without being glitzy. Yet the serving staff scared me into submission and the food was wildly inconsistent. I was halfway out the door, but I turned around, unable to resist taking some hams and focaccia home with me. After all, that prosciutto is probably the only thing keeping this place in business.
283 Amsterdam Avenue
New York 10023
by J Khou