Gemma, A Gem

The Couple, En Route to Lower East Side

On Sunday afternoon, my boyfriend Josh and I had a couple hours to kill and after a quick subway ride downtown, we found ourselves wandering in the vicinity of the Bowery Hotel. We were starving, and cruised the neighborhood briefly looking for something appealing that would work with my food allergies (ugh. annoying). We found the charming Gemma, took a quick peek at their dinner menu and went right inside. It was 4:00, that witching hour when it’s tough to find a great meal. But we knew immediately that we’d lucked out.

The endlessly charming interior cannot be captured adequately in photographs, no matter how lovely they turn out. The space feels at once comfortable yet elegant–as if you’ve wandered in to some fabulous aging debutante’s private dining room and pulled up a chair. Lush, amber lighting compliments the decor comprised of vintage wine bottles wooden tables, mix-and-match chairs, thick white candles, and large antique mirrors.

The wait staff was friendly and attentive–bringing our water in a label-less wine bottle and a basket full of fresh-baked-still-warm foccacia as soon as we sat down. (This Celiac was not able to indulge in the bread, but the boy loved it!)

For our first course we shared the Chef’s selection of meats and cheeses ($18), each heavenly bite of which was devoured instantly but allowed to linger on the tongue. For dinner, he ordered the parpardelle with oxtail ragu ($16) and I had the artichoke salad with parmesan and truffle vinaigrette ($13)–and, never one to turn down a truffle, I paired my salad with the truffled polenta fries ($7). The salad was delightful and full of flavor–not too much truffle oil, but enough to make the taste buds sing. The polenta fries came with two dipping sauces–one a cheesy pot of wonder and the other orange, spicy, and divine.

Munching and sipping contentedly, I scoped out the place and found a diverse spread of happy diners. A young hippie couple sat in a mirrored corner toasting life and enjoying appetizers. A rowdy group of girls my age huddled in a booth drinking too much wine and loving every drop. A long table in the center of the space provided adequate seating and food for a big family celebrating something on a lovely Sunday evening. An older couple held hands over their intimate table while awaiting entrees. And there was the inevitable screaming baby by the bar area, but we were too happy to care.

As our meal drew to close, I knew we had hours ahead of us to wander the streets arm-in-arm and shop and enjoy Downtown. But I was still so sad at having to leave Gemma, the warmth and friendliness of which had charmed us deeply. In a city full of eateries, each with its own schtick, it is always such an amazement to me that it can be so tiring finding the perfect place to fit your mood, budget, and aesthetic. Gemma was Sunday’s perfect discovery–a memory formed over prosciutto and fine wine, a romantic spot that will be just as special when I return with my mom, a friend, or a business associate. It was incredible. It was a gem.