I’ve never given Little Italy enough credit. Lured away by the much more familiar wares and dishes of Chinatown right next door, I confess that there was never much that attracted me to those few blocks north of Canal Street (with one small exception, more later). Until now.
A fav restaurant buddy (“frb”) and I, eager for more after last week, chose a couple of places in the more accessible locale of this Italian-restaurant neighborhood.
Now remember this address: 149 Mulberry Street. That’s 149. You will need to keep this in mind because you will almost certainly be counting addresses one by one (“143…145…147?…151…wait, what?”). Keep an eye out for a sidewalk table of non-descript t-shirts and baseball caps and the restaurant Il Palazzo. There is an unmarked red door down a small flight of steps between these two landmarks. That’s Mulberry Project. Go ahead, don’t be afraid.
Two doors in and you’ll find yourself in a subterranean stone hideaway in a dark red and black palette. We were there a little early for the weekend (before 9pm), so it wasn’t too packed and the bar was inviting. Amidst the cozy and secretive surroundings, I couldn’t help but think “coooool.”
We were served by Matty Gee himself, a co-owner of this fine establishment, and he whipped up some excellent drinks for us. The Mulberry Project does a bespoke method of drink ordering. Pick an available fresh fruit/veg/spice from the daily chalkboard on the wall, choose a spirit, describe your hankering, and let him do his magic. Here’s what we got:
What a nice first drink. The rye whiskey taste was prominent, but not too strong, and pomegranate gave it a nice sweet and tart kick.
frb’s first drink. The chili was a pleasant surprise in this one. At first, you get the yum watermelon taste, and then all of a sudden…spicy! So yea, spicy watermelon? It works.
Well, this is the kind of beverage I could settle back with a good book and just keep drinking and drinking all evening. I loved the honey, ginger and cinnamon bark syrup combo, which gave it a smooth punch, rounded out by a nice juicy flavor from the cherries.
It’s a ginger party! Very refreshing and really crisp.
If I had to describe the drinks overall in one word, I would say it’s FRESH. Seriously, it is freezing cold and snowing in the dead of winter outside, a time when all I want to do is hide in the corner by a space heater, but drinking these cocktails made me feel like I really should be hanging out in Bali or some other comparable location with a lot of natural life and energy, preferably by a waterfall or beach. It’s nice when a well-made drink can let you dream for just a little while.
I like that The Mulberry Project is a place for adventurous people, willing to put their trust in a skilled professional to make something different and unique. Thanks, Matty. We had a really fun time, and will definitely be back (hopefully to try the food too!).
The decor is just what you want from a nice little Italian place. Soft lighting, wood plank tables, and charming antique-style details. But onto the food, the FOOD. We started with some great rice balls (arancini), and I wish I had a picture for you, but as soon as they hit the table, it was “fork-mouth-stomach-smile” gone. It all happened really quickly. Trust me, though, they were good.
Next, the pappardelle with sausage ragu and pecorino…
And the Fresca pizza (fresh mozz, marinara sauce, basil)…
Ok, so that pizza was pretty dang awesome. I loved the thin crispy crust and the sweet tomato sauce. Plus, the mozzarella wasn’t rubbery, and it actually tasted like mozzarella! Yea, we sort of stuffed our faces. It was great.
We didn’t order dessert because we were so full, but that didn’t stop me from making a quick trip later to LA BELLA FERRARA (map!), also on Mulberry Street, for some rainbow cookies and cannolis to take home. As I alluded to earlier, for years, there has been only one reason for me to go into Little Italy, and that was to buy rainbow cookies and cannolis at Ferraras. Sure, it’s touristy, and I think I found out about the place ages ago when I was probably still a tourist myself, but it’s familiar and comforting and I’ll keep coming back as long as the pastries are good.
So I guess now I have a couple of good new reasons to return to the area. Not bad, Little Italy, you definitely have some winners here.