Provi Provi, the Italian equivalent of "eat, eat," "Try it you'll like it," or "Giv ah farzuch," is a refrain familiar to anyone who has a Jewish mother. The name conjures up warm memories of home, generous portions of food which "should not go to waste," and the feeling of being cared for (perhaps to a fault) in comfortable surroundings. Therefore, this restaurant located in Manhattan's Upper West Side, has much to live up to. In fulfilling these expectations, Provi Provi does surprisingly well.
This large restaurant accommodates a total of 150 diners who are afforded the choice of eating in any of three distinctly different settings. To enter the restaurant, patrons must descend a flight of stairs to the restaurant's basement level main entrance, a setup which thus is not handicap friendly. Upon entering one is greeted by a full bar and a dessert showcase. From there, the space opens up to the primary dining area, where the diner has the option of sitting either in a booth or at a table. At dinnertime, white table cloths, candles, and occasionally flowers dress up the tables and give this tastefully decorated, Mediterranean inspired room, a more formal appearance. Left of the entry are stairs to access the sidewalk dining area. Glass enclosed, with small tables and red checkered tablecloths, this "outdoor" seating is reminiscent of trattorias common throughout Italy. Although exposed to the street on three sides, this space still manages to provide an unexpectedly intimate and delightful Italian inspired setting. A third stair originating at the front of the main dining room accesses the last dining room, located on the second floor. This is the most secluded space, featuring several small private dining alcoves, and a few booths off to the side of the room, which is also divided by the staircase. Dimmed lighting, tables dressed with white linen tablecloths, candles, and flowers, and a fireplace further enhance the romantic atmosphere.
But what about the food?
I started with a Minestrone soup, which came in a light, thin tomato base and contained a nice blend of finely cut vegetables. As is typical in Northern Italy, the soup contained almost no pasta. It was prepared with a minimum of fat and was restrained in its seasoning, reflecting the preferences of the health-conscious Upper West Side clientele. This resulted in giving the soup a somewhat thin consistency, which I did not, however, find objectionable. My companion ordered the Insalata del Containo. It was a hearty helping of vegetables, mostly string beans and potatoes, which was augmented with marinated mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, asparagus, dressed with a mild vinaigrette. The raw vegetables were crisp and blended harmoniously.
The Portobello alla griglia, (grilled and marinated portobello mushrooms) with spinach and four cheese sauce, could easily have sufficed as a light meal by itself. The chopped spinach and the cheeses nicely complemented the beefy and flavorful portobello mushrooms. The dish was both filling and delicious, and is a good appetizer choice for hearty eaters. We sampled two other antipasti, the Funghi Ripieni (broiled jumbo mushrooms stuffed with vegetables and served hot) and the Mozzarella Caprese (fresh homemade mozzarella cheese with tomato, basil, and olive oil garnish). The stuffed mushrooms were delicately seasoned and also contained a hint of cheese. Although my companion would have liked greater definition in the seasoning, I found it perfect as it was. Both of us agreed, however, that the homemade mozzarella cheese was easily the best we've had. With the help of a little extra olive oil and black pepper, it had a light, mild flavor and a pleasing, creamy texture.
By this time we could have walked away reasonably satiated, but we felt we could not leave without sampling the entrées. I ordered the Branzino Provenciale, a filet of fresh snapper sautéed with shallots, garlic, tomato, mushrooms and white wine. Carrots, small roast potatoes in their skins and squash, accompanied the amply sized fish portion, of excellent quality. I thoroughly enjoyed the delightfully seasoned wine sauce that enhanced the flavor of the tender and perfectly sautéed snapper. The vegetable sides were well prepared, seasoned with moderation and did not overpower the delicate fish. To vary our samplings, my companion ordered a combination of pasta dishes: regular semolina ravioli and spinach ravioli covered with a salmon cream sauce. The homemade semolina Ravioli was sparingly filled with ricotta cheese and spinach. The spinach ravioli (Ravioli di Spinacci) contained a three cheese filling. Both ravioli were covered with the smoked salmon cream sauce (from the Fettuccine al Salmone) which disappointed. Not only was it not creamy, but it lacked body. The fish was very salty, as well. The freshly made pasta, was over-boiled giving it a texture that was too soft and somewhat spongy. Feeling full and unable to finish our entrees, we had them packed up to go, allowing us to reserve what little room we had left for dessert.
Chef Nero came to Provi Provi after years of hotel experience in Italy, Switzerland, and New York's Rainbow Room. The Tiramisu, his Provi Provi signature dessert, is closer to the classical version of this dish than any of the more familiar cakes we have encountered elsewhere. Served in a glass, it is "a light, rich Italian Moscarpone with imported lady fingers soaked in Kahlua, triple sec and espresso." Although the tiramisu was delicious, the Kahlua and triple sec literally soaked the bottom of the glass, and packed a bit of an alcoholic punch. The "White House Cheese Cake," which was created during President Reagan's administration and served at the White House for many years, is not a slice, but a small cake topped with fresh sweetened strawberries. It was light and had a nice consistency. The "Today's Desserts" menu features fourteen freshly made temptations and judging by those we sampled, it appears you can't go wrong with whichever one you choose. There is also an ice cream drink menu that runs the gamut from Iced Cappuccino to Decadent Chocolate Chocolate Shake, a drink tailored to satisfy the cravings of the true chocoholic.
The restaurant honors requests for modifications of the menu selections and will tailor seasonings to yourspecifications. There is also a children's menu accommodating those under 12 years with choices of pasta, fish or pizza, ensuring that family dining will be a less stressful event. Take advantage of the mid-week Pris Fixe Dinner Specials. For $22.95, you get a salad, a choice from three pastas, tea or coffee and fruit salad. $26.96 substitutes a salmon entrée for the pastas.
A word should be said about the service. It was remarkably amenable given the location of our "sidewalk" table.Even though each of our requests required them to run up and down the stairs, the waiters remained friendly,obliging and professional.
The sophistication and variety of both its menu and decor, makes this restaurant suitable for just about any occasion. The name says it all: Provi Provi, try it, you'll like it!
Restaurant: Provi Provi
Address: 228 West 72nd Street
Facsimile: (212) 875-0127
Hechsher: OK Labs (Cholov Yisroel, Pas Yisroel)
Hours: Sun-Thurs: 12:00am-11:00pm Fri: 12:00am-2:20pm
Charge Cards Accepted: MC, Visa, AmEx, Diners Club,