Carved deep into a brown stone, Sofia is a downtown gem transfixed in the heart of corporate midtown. A gallery in its previous incarnation, the restaurant is three small spaces made into one still diminutive eatery. Small though it may be, every inch of the space is deliberate. It is artful in its design, yet special not because of its appearance, but for its unerring, generational relationship with food.
Sofia is the name of the owner’s grandmother, whose maternal culinary ability is only surpassed possibly by the equally admirable pizza made by the grandfather. But first, our story starts with the grandson, who gave to us the gift of spinach artichoke dip. It is drunk munchies like nothing you have tasted, and has since the restaurant’s uncertain start in 2009, been a bestseller to pair with its delightful selection of wines.
We follow next with a prosciutto mac and cheese, san Danielle 18 month aged, imported from the motherland. Settled on its American counterpart, the cured meat makes less of an impression. Fear not, for it shall return again in its full glory.
Together with this was a stuffed mushroom, the preparation involved homemade bread crumbs cooked separately, then met in the oven with white wine with three cheese companies. After a sauna in booze, it was a delightful fungi that melted in your mouth and made you learn never again to share.
Another plate to keep to yourself would be the meat balls. Made purely with one single type of meat, it was pillowing soft yet with an integrity of flavour that stops your thoughts. For a couple glorious moments, all that remained of your intelligence was a visceral love of beef.
The tour de force of the meal however, comes early. It is the humble mozzarella, made with two curds that blend cream with flavour. This cheese has no familial history, but is born of the rich tradition that made possible the restaurant. It is a flavour that I have no words to describe, as I am not by any means an expert. However, my fellow diner, Bradley Hawks, a self-professed cheese aficionado, was nothing short of stunned with adoration over this simple plate. It came with a generous san Danielle again, this time undistracted by Mac.
The grandfather, I believe had made the mozzarella, which had seared Sofia forever in our memories—but this was not to be the end of his influence. As the owner of one of the first pizzerias in Brooklyn, and the brilliant mind behind selling by-the-slice, he brought to us through his grandson a most lovely pancetta pizza. It smelled great and tasted lovely, but after all the food before, it was tipping the scales of diminishing returns.
We finish with an imported Italian canoli. Having always harbored doubt in my mind when faced with American versions of the pastry, this was a wonderful awakening. The cream was wonderfully rich, and the shell, with hints of chocolate, was the perfect crunch.
Throughout the meal, we had artfully chosen wine pairings, but being the amateur that I am (or being appropriately buzzed) I had little recollection of the actual wines. I do however, know that the sommelier has a nose for small italian vineyards and the unusually delightful. I encourage you therefore, between bites of spinach artichoke dip. The wine brings the meal together, in its subtle, warming, inviting way–that and the stories behind the food, each more thoughtful than the next.
The meal was complimentary, though this did not affect our opinion, nor were we required to write. Photos are courtesy of Bradley Hawks.
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Sofia Wine Bar, Cafe
242 E 50th St
New York, NY 10022