Last week I was looking for a restaurant on the Upper West Side and stumbled across Sambuca, which is not only one of my favorite cuisines–Italian–but also just happens to have a gluten-free menu available for Celiac diners.
I was dining with my other half who is non-Celiac. I thought this place would be perfect because I could sample their gluten-free menu while he could enjoy a gluten-filled dinner. I arrived at the restaurant early and was quickly seated at a primo table ideal for people watching. Once seated I was presented with both gluten-free and regular menus along with the wine list. I quickly began to peruse the gluten-free selections when my server keyed right in on this and said “Oh, are you gluten-free”. When I responded she quickly offered up a selection of gluten free breads and took my drink order so that I could imbibe whilst waiting for my guest. Two cheesy sausage muffins (one large, one small) and a corn bread disc soon arrived. I thought this to be a very nice touch. The muffins were actually very good. A bit tough and slightly dry but the sausage and cheese taste sensation I was experiencing one over the fact that these were not likely baked that day. The cornbread disc was, well, in a word confusing, and not very good. It was extremely dry and tough lacked any sort of taste.
Soon after I sampled the gluten-free bread offerings, my partner arrived and quickly ordered a Martini. I was drinking a fabulous Sauvignon Blanc that was really quite good. The restaurant offers a relatively decent selection of wines that are well-priced along with a gluten-free beer option (Redbridge) which I was dying to try but decided to stick with wine for the evening.
The restaurant is family style – offering essentially two portion sizes, a large and small option, both of which feed more than one person. As we would only be splitting a starter and a side dish we opted for the smaller portions. We agreed on the grilled Portobello mushrooms with arugula. I had a hankering for their ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach as my main course and my partner had the Chicken Picatta. We ordered a side of broccoli rabe with garlic to share and for dessert I opted for the chocolate chip cake with cream cheese filling covered in chocolate ganache and my partner their signature Sambuca Tower consisting of banana praline gelato layered with chocolate wafers, chocolate sauce, chocolate chips, and whipped cream (non gluten-free desserts appeared to all be family style).
The Portobello appetizer was rather disappointing. They were tough and really lacked any flavor. They were presented atop a bed of arugula and a lemon. Now I love simple, rustic options but this was neither of the two – it was just rather tired and lazy. My ravioli on the other hand were quite good. They were well cooked and flavorful but were swimming in an overload of marinara sauce that really was not necessary. Some freshly grated cheese would have been most welcome vs. the pizzeria-style shaker placed on the table. My partner enjoyed his chicken which looked very good and was not overly sauced. Both of our portions were rather large and we had plenty to take home but unfortunately it was not an option as we had plans afterwards. The broccoli rabe side was plentiful and sautéed well so that it had a bit of a crunch as I prefer rather than the often lifeless version many places pass off.
My dessert was a large piece of cake but it tasted old so I am not sure how many of these they are selling during the week. It had the dreaded refrigerator taste that makes me cringe. It was otherwise dry and just okay. My partner’s signature dessert was enough for a small army and was presented in all of its towering glory which really was on the line of being obscene and pretentious. He commented that it was just good – not great.
On a high note, The service was stellar and very attentive without being obtrusive. There was a fellow Celiac at the table next to us who I heard comment that the bread disc needed a chain saw to cut. I commend the restaurant for offering gluten-friendly options but given the prices and overall mediocre quality it was not worth the money. I could have easily gone to a non gluten-free locale and eaten far better (and gluten free) for the price. I might not have had quite the selection but quality trumps quantity in my book.
Sambuca is located at: 20 West 72dn Street, New York, New York 10023