Note: Cesare Casella sold both Salumeria Rosi restaurants in October 2015. They remain open, but without his involvement.
I don’t know if it was luck or prescience, but when chef Cesare Casella opened Salumeria Rosi four years ago, his sense of the moment was pitch-perfect.
Casella copied a number of then-popular trends: the restaurant that doubles as a market; casual, tapas-style dining; and plates delivered randomly, “as and when they’re ready.” Those trends feel less worn-out here than they do at many other places.
In its early days, Salumeria Rosi often wasn’t available at the times we wanted to go (mainly pre-Lincoln Center). It dropped down, and then completely off our radar.
I’ve only lately noticed open tables at times I wanted to go. The recent opening of a new, considerably more upscale Salumeria Rosi on the Upper East Side, reignited my interest in the original spot.
The restaurant is a peculiar partnership with an Italian meat company called Parmacotto, operated by the Rosi family in Parma: hence, its full name, used by almost no one: Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto. It’s technically a chain, with outposts in Parma and Paris, but as far as I know, the cuisine here is entirely Casella’s.
The small-plates format often lends itself to over-ordering. You depend on the server to advise how much is enough, and they err to excess. That wasn’t the case here: the server suggested that we start with five items, which was exactly right for us; diners with larger appetites would probably need more.
The menu includes a large selection of cheeses ($6–8; selection $15), cured meets ($5–9; selections $17 or $26), salads and cooked items ($7–17), and desserts ($8). Just about all of it is available for take-out. If your table faces the market counter, you’ll see a steady stream of Upper West Siders all evening long, who buy meats and cheeses to carry home.
The wine list offers about fifty bottles (about 15–20 by the glass), many under $50, including the 2006 Negroamaro Vereto ($45; above right). I’ll leave the formal evaluation to others, but as far as price goes, this is the sort of wine list this restaurant should have.
After bread service (decent but nothing special), we started with Mortadella ($5; above right), a luscious pork sausage dappled with pork fat.
Insalata Misti ($9; above left) was routine, a phoned-in salad. Polpette (12; above right), were excellent. You know a restaurant is committed to a dish when it comes on a serving plate that couldn’t be used for anything else—here, plate shaped like a pair of goggles with a separate bowl for each meatball.
Farroto ($15; above left) — a risotto-like dish made with farro — was also very good, but the best dish of the evening was Pork Belly ($14; above right), with beautifully crisped skin and pork cracklings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with corn and spinach, an inspired pairing.
The Times never gave Salumeria Rosi a full review. In a dining brief, Frank Bruni praised the imported meats and cheeses, but found the space “cramped” and “[not] especially charming.” I suspect he might have a different view today: compared to other Italian market–restaurant places like Eataly and Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, Salumeria Rosi is practically serene.
Still, it isn’t the spot for a leisurely or romantic meal. When you confirm your reservation, you’ll be told that there’s a 90-minute time limit on tables (a policy in place since early 2010). The restaurant lives up to its end of the bargain, sending out plates at a brisk pace.
One advantage of the kitchen’s speed, is that you needn’t decide up-front how much food you want to eat: start small and order more later if you need to (we didn’t). Still, there is a “wham-bam-thank you ma’am” feeling about dining here. It was fine for a pre-opera dinner, but if you want to linger, you should dine elsewhere.
The small dining room seats about 30. In good weather, there is also an outdoor café.
Salumeria Rosi (283 Amsterdam Avenue at 73rd Street, Upper West Side)
Food: Modern Italian, salumi, and cheeses, served tapas-style
Service: Friendly but very fast; perhaps too fast
Ambiance: A restaurant inside a market
Why? Very good, clever Italian cuisine; some of the best salumi in town