About 10 of us gathered at Lupa for my friend John Summerour's Surprise 29th Birthday. He claimed (after a good ten minutes of genuine stunned confusion) that he'd always wanted a surprise party and what a gift it was to have finally been the reason for one.
The food at Lupa (a Roman menu by executive chef Mark Ladner) is beautifully presented, and it tastes even more exquisite. The chef had designed a four-course prix fixe for the birthday which started with a machine gun-firing of white beans 'al fiasco,' rosemary ciabatta, brussels sprouts with pecorino, glassine slices of prosciutto, octopus with black ceci (the only octopus I've ever eaten and enjoyed) and, my favorite, a light corn souffle-thing, with dill and grapefruit.
Then came huge white bowls with six (only six!) pillow-soft pieces of ricotta gnocci in a fennel sausage tomato sauce; the fresh cracked pepper moved the dish into another realm. There were three choices of entree: pollo alla Diavola (a kind of lemon-pepper chicken,) as well as a striped sea bass with lentils and spinach--both of which were excellent; and the third was the pork shoulder with rose petal glassato, which is essentially a clear glaze. The pork was my favorite, sweet and tangy, with the undercurrant of salty pork fat. Truly heavenly. Other-worldly.
Dessert was tartufos, a honey and laurel panna cotta and a selection of biscotti. And the best part of all was that we left without feeling overfed. The portions were tiny, but it all added up perfectly--something I know is really difficult to do; ask anyone who's eaten at my house.
After two bottles of prosecco between us as soon as we sat down, the sommelier (the only one I've ever seen with muscles) suggested one of his favorites, an amazing Lugana Cantina DiCustoza, which also happened to be one of the cheapest bottles on the list. A few other reds went around--I was not the only one drinking from two different glasses--but, perhaps needless to say, I don't remember them as clearly.