Murray Hill, NYC — Recently having a dear friend in town from the west coast saw the occasion for me to meet her for lunch in the neighborhood where she grew up (and where she was staying with her mother), Murray Hill.
I let her pick where we would eat, and she chose a quaint, buzzy place called Penelope, which I had not heard of before. That doesn't mean that the place isn't well known — quite the opposite. The requisite internet research on my part turned up Yelp! up 1700+ reviews and almost 1000 photos for the place.
Checking Penelope's website, I found a quaint variety of menu items, many seasonal, and all remedially appealing.
One standout was the chicken meatballs, if for no other reason, due to it's appearance three times on the menu — as an appetizer, as a salad, and as a sandwich.
My lunch date ordered the arugula salad with chicken meatballs. I, ever adventurous to understand a restaurant's kitchen at its most creative, opted for the lunch special wild ramp grilled cheese sandwich.
The delicious chicken meatballs are indeed a standout, wonderfully moist yet still firm and not overly seasoned so the chicken flavor came through. Accompanying them was a bed of peppery arugula, and a lemon-pesto vinaigrette, nicely complimentary with a hint of sweetness, acidity, and herbal aromatics. A healthy mound of grated pecorino cheese adds some nice mellowness and finishing salt for the palate.
My grilled sandwich of cheddar, fontina, and white American cheeses was properly gooey with a balance of subtle and sharp inherent flavors. Pesto counters with a nice brightness, with the naturally grounding earthiness of wild ramps, boasting slightly more pronounced and layered taste properties than its sistern in the allium family (such as onion and garlic, almost offering best of both worlds, theoretically).
I saved half my sandwich, noticing throughout service how many other tables were being delivered a rather ornately decorated carrot cake, one of my favorite — if not all-around favorite — cakes. learning all the desserts were made in-house as well, Francesca and I doubled up (down?), ordering the carrot cake and a likewise impressive-looking lemon daisy cake.
Both cakes are winners, especially the cake parts. Admittedly, I don't have the same tolerance for high sugar content as most, so I found the frostings a bit cloying. Though with the way other diners were cruising through their cakes, I suspect, as usual, that I was the only one who did.
It's not a stretch, from the dishes that we had, to see how Penelope performs well in the kitchen department. I can safely assume that the consistency is there as well or they would hardly have the still steady if not overwhelming business they seem to still be enjoying. If you're in the Murray Hill neighborhood and find yourself hungry, you'll find Penelope to be most rewarding. (Or skip Penelope at your own peril.)
Penelope | 159 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016 | (212) 481-3800 | penelopenyc.com