It’s Amore! Italian Restaurants & New York (Part I)
October 8, 2009 § Leave a comment
There is a love affair between Manhattan and its Italian restaurants. They just go together, like proscuitto and parmigiano, or tomato and mozarella. There is an overwhelming selection – across price points, parts of town, and areas of Italy – you can find whatever it is you’re looking for. The list is long, so I’ve divided it into three postings. Each restaurant is linked to its web site.
Here are some of my favorites. Maybe one or two will become yours too!
Gemma – Located in the Bowery Hotel, this casual Italian trattoria serves fresh “rustic Italian cuisine” in a lively atmosphere. You’ll want to try the crostini (Olive Tapenade Goat Cheese, Chicken Liver Puree, or Tuna with White Beans). And I like their version of Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and the Bistecca. If you’re there for lunch, the sandwiches are it. Gemma does not take reservations, so on busy nights (Wednesday – Saturday) show up early or grab a glass of wine and seat at the long bar while you wait. The scene is a good one though, and won’t be hard to take.
Hearth – This East Village restaurant has atmosphere galore and serves classic Italian food with “a contemporary spin.” Salad, pasta, meat or fish, it’s hard to choose. Every bite is packed with flavor. Using only fresh ingredients, the menu changes daily, with more dramatic shifts with the seasons. Hearth also offers their “Cucina Povera” menu – 3 courses featuring simple, hearty dishes for $35 with an optional $15 wine pairing. Bellissimo!
Supper – Northern Italian Osteria & Wine Bar is another NYC favorite. The third restaurant from Frank Prisinzano, it’s a charming, rustic East Village spot serving authentic fare from the north of Italy. Think, Grilled Polenta with Wild Mushrooms, Branzino Livornese (tomatoes, capers, garlic, and onion) and Ravioli Mantovano (swiss chard and parmigiano filling with brownbutter sage and swiss chard sauce). My mouth is watering just writing the words.
A Voce Madison – First things first … no matter what else you want to eat, order the Ricotta di bufula while you are making your decision. Trust me on this one. After that, A Voce, which “offers a contemporary take on Italy’s most beloved dishes,” will continue to please. The Pappardelle is an excellent choice, as is the Trota all griglia. The interior of the restaurant is a design experience: an art installation called “Falling Twig” adorns one of the main walls, and the rest of the space is warm and modern at the same time. This is a dining experience. Take it all in. Note: a second A Voce location recently opened on Columbus Avenue (Upper West Side)
Beppe – This is a Flatiron gem. An inviting Italian restaurant that looks like a Tuscan farmhouse … and tastes like one, as well. The Fagioli and the Tri Colore salads are excellent. Try the Pazzo or the Gnocchi, if you’re in the mood for pasta, or the Rosticciana or Agnello with a side of Verdure if you you are craving some meat. And if there is anything on the menu with lobster, order it.
Coppola’s East – After opening Coppola’s Trattoria on the Upper West Side in 1986, Salvatore Coppola waited 12 years to launch Coppola’s East on 3rd Avenue near Gramercy Park, where he serves consistently flavorful “Northern Italian Comfort Food.” This is where I go when I am craving a hearty dish (usually half goes home with me) of pasta: Garganelli della Casa, Linguine Pescatore, or Fettucine di Enzo. And, I am a fan of the Carpaccio di Manzza and the Insalata Tricolore to start. Delicious.
Novita – Tucked into a below-street-level space on a tree-lined street, this Gramercy Park ristorante serving Piedmont fare is a great find. For over 15 years, Novita has delivered consistently excellent food and attentive service. How to choose between Funghi Misti, Insalata di Caprino, di Carciofini, di Fava, di Calamari … you get the idea, and that’s just to start. The offering of pastas, fish and meat is equally compelling. This is a romantic neighborhood spot worth seeking out.
Babbo Ristorante – Probably the best Italian restaurant in the city. Accordingly, reservations are nearly impossible to get. Do try though, it’s worth the effort. Babbo accepts reservations up to one month in advance to the numerical date for parties of up to 6 people. If you can handle an early time, you might be in luck. Should luck elude you, you can always try the Babbo Wine Bar which opens daily at 5 P.M. (4:30 on Sunday) and takes walk-ins. Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich have delivered here for over 10 years.
Il Cantinori – Tuscan cuisine in Greenwich Village since 1983. In a city where restaurants come and go, New Yorkers have frequented Il Cantinori for over 25 years because the food and service are simply excellent. I may have had the best Insalata Caprese that I’ve ever eaten (and I have had my share of Insalata Caprese), and you can’t go wrong with the Tagliata Cantinori (rib eye steak with herbs). And, the interior oozes atmosphere (read: it’s romantic!).
Il Mulino – A classic in its own league. Picture waiters in tails carving slices of Parmigiano Reggiano from huge chunks that surely arrived from Italy off the boat (or plane). Fernando and Gino Masci opened Il Mulino over twenty years ago and have been serving Abruzzese cuisine to New Yorkers and visitors alike, ever since. Dishes are simple, hearty, rustic … delicious! The Langostino and Risotto are to die for. And, if Dover Sole is in season, order it, no matter the price.
Lupa Osteria Romana “Roman trattoria fare of the highest quality at a moderate price.” Reservations can be a challenge here as well, but once you’ve secured a table the dilemma becomes what to order … everything sounds good, looks good, smells good. There is a fantastic selection of Anipasti e Salumi to start. I tried, and fell in love with, one of their Insalate – Escarole, Walnuts, Red Onion, and Pecorino. For a main, I like the Bucatini All’ Amatriciana and the Bavette Cacio e Pepe. On my second visit, I managed to save room for dessert. The Lupa Tartufo was a good ending. If you are making a reservation, there are two “rooms” in the trattoria: the front, where the bar is, tends to be a bit louder and more lively than the back which is quieter and more intimate. You can try to request your preference.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria – The casual, convivial outpost of the Batali/Bastianich team. Modeled after a train station, Otto is located at One Fifth Avenue, a fabulous Art Deco building that opened in January 1928 as a hotel, and 8th Street. Start with some Antipasti. I love the olives and Funghi Misti (mixed mushrooms). Then order a plate of meat (proscuitto, salumi, coppa), and three cheeses (possibly Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, and Taleggio). After that, it’s pasta or pizza (my vote is the pizza, thin crispy crust from a wood-burning oven. Too many to choose from, but Quattro Stagioni gives you a little bit of everything). Add a nice bottle of Italian wine from their extensive list and you just might think you’re in a stazione in Italia.