How Jupiter at Rock Center Celebrates Regional Italian Cuisine, in Five Dishes
When you think about dining at Rockefeller Center, you’re likely imagining sneaking sips of hot cocoa between skates, or splitting a pizza while sitting on the concourse floor amongst swarms of office-goers and tourists.
Annie Shi, Jess Shadbolt, and Clare de Boer had a different vision of what a restaurant in one of the most heavily visited areas in New York City might look like. And the result is Jupiter, which opened on the rink level of Rockefeller Center last November. The team behind King in Soho recently promoted Jupiter’s former executive sous chef, Lucy Gibson, to be their new executive chef. Gibson, who also had a lengthy stint at King, wants to ensure that Jupiter stays true to the original concept that Shi, Shadbolt, and de Boer had for it.
“Regardless of what everyone’s thoughts are, we are doing classical, regional Italian food and we’re not going to bend over to make this fit into what others might think a Rock Center restaurant should be,” she says. “And that’s been really well received.” At Jupiter, you won’t find old-school, red-sauce Italian dishes but that’s for the best. Because what Jupiter offers instead is intentionally lighter, brighter, contemporary interpretations of Italian cuisine.
At Jupiter, Gibson thoughtfully considers seasonality and regionality with a menu that changes with the leaves. “We get to really launch into the next season with all of these things that make us us. I’m jazzed as hell to be honest,” she says. Here’s what classical, regional Italian food means to Gibson, and to Jupiter, in five dishes.
1. Mozzarella di Bufala
A simple mozzarella antipasti isn’t a groundbreaking inclusion, but the execution of it is. “It’s highlighting what’s special about the thing itself and letting it be,” says Gibson. Using 100% buffalo mozzarella from Puglia, this is what Gibson calls a “natural expression of spring.” The mozzarella is carefully sliced and served with gently cooked peas and pea shoots. “The way we treat the peas is we sott’olio them, meaning ‘under oil.’ We’ll blanch them really delicately in some salted water with lots of mint and garlic. Immediately when we pull them out of the water, we cover them with olive oil and more mint and more garlic and there they sit and distill in this oil. They soak up the olive oil flavor and the salt. It’s an ancient preservation technique but we don’t keep them for an eternity, so they just stay really bright and vibrant.”
2. Tagliatelle ai Carciofi e Pinoli
This dish is all about texture and color, which is more challenging than it sounds, considering the fact that it highlights thinly sliced, lightly poached baby artichokes. “We cook the artichokes to the point where they are soft, but you’ll still feel them in the mouth. We want to take it just to the point where they still have some personality on the plate. They should still interplay with this toothsome tagliatelle,” explains Gibson.
To help the artichokes maintain their vibrant green color, they’re soaked lightly in wine wine and a little bit of water. The sauce is made with butter, lots and lots of thyme, and a touch of garlic. “We let that whole herbaceous garlicky butter get to know itself. And then those wine-soaked artichokes go into it with all of that delicious wine liquid, which we let slowly simmer. On the pick-up, we’ll add a little bit of parmesan as we’re tossing it to let that sauce slowly emulsify.” The result is an extremely light, brightly acidic, herbaceous pasta featuring pine nuts, parsley, the aforementioned sott’olio artichokes, and Parmesan. “We want there to be a taste of noodle, a bite from the carciofi, and just the flavor of Rome.”
3. Spaghetti alle Vongole
“When I come in, this is the thing I inhale,” says Gibson. Sweet manilla clams are gently steamed with wine, garlic, chile, and pasta water to create an unexpectedly juicy answer to one of the most classic Italian dishes on the menu. For Gibson, this dish wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but rather a love-hate relationship that evolved into her beloved with time. “This spaghetti, weirdly, has been a huge challenge for us. Drying pasta is a massive endeavor and it’s done on so many different scales that it’s hard to really find the best process for drying. We tried to manipulate the humidity, the temperature, and understand all of these different variables. We got so in our heads about it that it took us stripping it all back down to get this great product.” Now the process is about as simple as it could be. The spaghetti is extruded through bronze dies, which gives the noodle a porous outer texture, and left uncovered to dry over a long period of time at a low temperature.
“There’s a typography to the noodle itself that really allows it to pick up all of the flavor of the clams. Little bits of garlic and flecks of chile flake will nestle themselves into the noodle. The bottarga on top is maybe our No. 1 ingredient — it’s just the most delicious red mullet roe from Sardinia that’s cured on the beaches. You get a bite with just the clam and the texture of the [grated] bottarga with so much fishiness, and then you get the bottarga that nestles down and emulsifies into the broth and creates something else entirely different.”
4. Lasagna Bianco con Vitello e Piselli
When Gibson and Shadbolt discussed how to create a baked pasta dish for spring that would feel light and inviting, Shadbolt encouraged her to create something “lyrical” and light, in its own way.
The lasagna begins with housemade dough made with 75% double-zero flour and 25% semolina. Says Gibson, “I’m leaning towards a much softer, lighter dough with just a bit of pith and toothsomeness to it that comes from the coarse semolina.” As for the filling, there are layers of light bechamel sauce with a bright veal ragu and crushed peas strewn throughout. “It has ground veal with lots of finely cut fennel, fennel seed, lots of thyme, and one tomato in each braise just to liven up the acidity. I want us to be rooted in Emilia-Romagna here. This is not necessarily light, but it has moments of lightness in an otherwise baked dish, so that’s where I’m going with ‘lyrical.’”
5. Italian Mess
“Our cheeky little Italian mess is beautiful. It’s a slightly more composed iteration of an Eton mess with elegant, crisp meringue, rhubarb sorbet, a zabaglione cream, and poached rhubarb. It’s meant to look elegant but kind of be crushed altogether and enjoyed,” says Gibson.
Oftentimes, rhubarb is tossed with tons of sugar and a sweet berry to offset its signature tartness. But in keeping with Gibson’s goal of “letting the good stuff be good,” the rhubarb flavor is perfectly puckering. “Our pastry chef is amazing with rhubarb. She’s kept this sorbet really light and bitter. But then we add this bright, crunchy, sweet meringue and this zabaglione-like cream with mascarpone so it’s really creamy and rich. The rhubarb flavor hasn’t been erased, but we use other textures and flavors to make it a rounder, sweeter dish.”
“On the plate, it presents as an elegant, urban dessert but when you get into it, it is a purely decadent, indulgent mess of good stuff.”
A Closer Look at Jupiter
Jupiter is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Kelly Vaughan is a food writer and editor based in New York City. Her work has appeared across digital and print publications including Allrecipes, Bon Appétit, Epicurious, Food52, Food & Wine, Forbes Vetted, Hartford Magazine, Kitchn, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, and more. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.