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Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or just a special night out, Fulton Five’s old-world European warmth and sophistication set a romantic stage for savoring the alluring Northern Italian fare of executive chef Joshua Cain.
Arriving at this charming 15-table restaurant, guests step into a reception area at the edge of the bar, where they’re welcomed by wines begging to be sampled and patrons enjoying their vintage or aperitivi of choice. Just beyond, the aromatic kitchen gives a glimpse of chefs at work on the intensely satisfying menu of fare from the Piedmont, Ligurian, and neighboring regions of Italy, where pride in the seasonal bounty is richly evident.
We chose a cold winter evening for a recent visit and were rewarded with a table by the window, a prime vantage point for not only people-watching but also appreciating the establishment’s interesting art. Among the pieces is a theater poster for Tosca at the Teatro alla Scala, which proved representative of the well-orchestrated evening we were about to enjoy.
Glasses of Rosso di Montalcino Il Valentiano from the largely Italian list, accompanied by crusty bread and olive oil, were an excellent start. Our first courses proved impeccable, including roasted garlic potato soup finished with parmesan and pancetta and laced with white truffle oil. Dense, creamy, and skillfully prepared, it offered an intense burst of roasted garlic, though the flavors of all other ingredients were beautifully layered. Insalata di funghi was a collection of delicate tastes that added up to a truly satisfying salad, featuring baby spinach with truffled parmesan vinaigrette that lent a sultry earthiness. With grilled seasonal mushrooms that converted the final shower of asiago into a perfect, tender crust, this simple, yet luxurious, salad was a true taste of Italy.
To warm the palate for the entrée course, we shared a primi plate of tender broad ribbon pasta with bits of lamb sausage, speck, Swiss chard, and mushrooms in parmesan cream. Risotto, sautéed shrimp, and mushroom-stuffed ravioli served with tomatoes, spinach, and gorgonzola fondue were wonderfully appealing as well.
Secondi courses were large in personality and beautifully prepped and presented. Tender lamb rib chops—frenched, grilled, and crowning an exquisite parmesan polenta—rested upon braised Swiss chard and caramelized onions in a sauce of tomato lamb jus that took the dish from sumptuous to spectacular. Pan-seared Maple Creek duck breast was memorable as well, perfectly cooked to a blush rose shade and paired with Anson Mills farro, duck confit, braised carrots, and onions and creatively finished with pomegranate jus.
Dessert options included budino di pane—moist, subtly sweet pudding made with diced pear and served with vanilla gelato and berry cabernet sauce. Chef Cain’s perfected version of our favorite tiramisu—a traditional pairing of lady fingers, mascarpone, espresso, and chocolate—made us realize that any we’d had before had been much too sweet.
In addition to the velvety textures and pleasurable, mouth-coating flavors of all we sampled, the common denominator for Cain’s productions is his rich, beautiful sauces. Blending the finest ingredients with a light touch and delicate balance, they’re expertly seasoned and simmered to perfection. As for service, we found that our glasses were never empty, and we wanted for nothing. The hum of contentment throughout the room was a testament to the skill and experience of the enjoyable service team. There is truly sublime pleasure in finding the soul-stirring, heart-warming, simple happiness that awaits at Fulton Five. Floria Tosca would have approved.