It’s Amore! Italian Restaurants & New York (Part II)
October 18, 2009 § 3 Comments
Here is Part II of my Italian restaurant tour of Manhattan. As with Part I, I have linked the restaurant names to their respective web sites. And, if you’re looking for Regis Philbin’s favorite spots, scroll down to Il Tinello under Midtown West.
Barbuto This is a spot I stumbled upon when I first moved to New York and was looking for space for a business. A bit further down Washington Street than the hub of shops, the restaurant is located on the corner of West 12th Street in what used to be a garage. The owners wisely kept the garage doors, which in warmer weather are kept open. Spare wood tables with leather and metal chairs, a long bar, and wood-burning pizza oven create an inviting atmosphere. The menu offers a well-edited list of dishes made from the freshest ingredients, and it changes daily. A few standbys and standouts: gnocchi, roasted jw chicken with salsa verde, and sauteed local spinach. Be like a local and head to Barbuto.
Scarpetta Means “little shoe” in Italian, and stands for the piece of crusty bread used to mop up the last bit of sauce on your plate. After many years uptown, Chef Scott Conant opened his downtown trattoria in mid-2008. The menu is farm-fresh and seasonal. Every item sounds so mouth-wateringly good, it’s hard to choose. Imagine Duck and Foie Gras Ravioli with a Marsala reduction, or Angolotti dal Plin filled with mixed meat & fonduta, mushrooms & parmigiano, knowing that all pastas are made in-house, or a Ribeye of Beef with roasted fall vegetables and truffled spinach puree. You’ll need that little shoe of bread, trust me. The main dining space is sky-lit and furnished with close-set tables and banquettes. There is a spacious bar in front, and outdoor dining in good weather. Reservations booked well-ahead are a must.
BiCE Ristorante The first location of this classic Northern Italian restaurant opened in Milan in 1926. In Manhattan, you’ll find BiCE in the heart of midtown, on 54th Street just east of the best shops on 5th Avenue. Drawing a rather “well-heeled” crowd, whether it’s lunch or dinner, BiCE is busy. The consistently excellent food and attentive service are the reasons why. For me, it’s all about the pastas, which are made fresh daily. Think, Spagetti Alle Vongole Veraci, Taglioni Con Aragosta, Pomodoro Fresco, Reduzione di Aragosta E Funghi Misti, and Papardelle al Telefono. Bring your Platinum AMEX though – prices are not for the faint-of-heart.
Bond 45 – This an Italian kitchen and steakhouse, serving homestyle cooking, in the center of the Theatre District. The mozarella and antipasti bars alone are worth the trip. The menu is extensive, to say the least, so you won’t want for choices. To help narrow things down, I would suggest the Red Beet and Asparagus Salad, and Lots of Shrimp Scampi. They also have a fantastic cocktail lounge.
Felidia If you’ve ever watched “Lidia’s Italy” on public television, then you have some idea what to expect. With her television show, DVDs, cookbooks, and six restaurants, Lidia Bastianich has come to define authentic Italian cuisine for a generation of food enthusiasts. Opened in 1981, Felidia is the Manhattan East Side flagship. Since 1995, chef Fortunato Nicotra has been preparing traditional fare with a delicious twist. Frequented by locals and visitors, alike, Felidia should be on your list.
Bocca di Bacco I was introduced to Bocca di Bacco by my dear theatre-going compatriots. Located on 9th Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets, it was a bit longer of a walk than I would have liked on a cold December night … but it was worth it and I have returned since, without the theatre as my excuse. Every aspect of the decor – from the ornate wooden doors, to the long stone bar, closely packed tables – creates warmth. The food is simple, reasonably priced, and delicious. The grilled octopus and Insalate di Brasaola e Pere are excellent, and the Fettucine Bolognese is up there with the city’s best.
Cara Mia Here is an inviting, creative Italian restaurant nestled on 9th Avenue at the edge of Theatre District. The Insalata di Pera and the Scampi al Limone are favorites of mine. A little removed from the traditional theatreland fare, you’ll be rewarded with inventive dishes and excellent service. I recommend it often to friends who are visiting the city and attending a Broadway show. Every one has loved it.
Esca I’ve yet to eat at Esca, much to the dismay of one of my close NYC friends who keeps telling me, “You have to eat at Esca.” We both love good food. He’s a member of what I affectionately call “The Sunday Night Supper Club” which, on a fairly regular basis, tries out different restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn on Sunday nights. I’ve even been invited on occasion. Suffice it to say, I trust his judgment and so should you. From the Babbo & Lupa team, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, partnered with chef/fisherman Dave Pasternack, if you want sublimely cooked fish, this is your place. Lobster, clams, shrimp, mussels, anchovies, sea bass, stripe bass, butterfish, salmon … add some verdure and some pasta and you get the idea. Located at West 43rd Street and 9th Avenue, you can visit pre-/post-theatre if you’re looking for a reason … but really, if you’re a fish lover who needs one?
Il Gattopardo This too comes as a recommendation, this time from the best friend/very-particular-foodie with whom I dined at Il Tinello (see below). Located on West 54th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues, in a narrow townhouse space with a back garden, this time the gastronomical focus is Southern Italy, especially Napoli. Like Il Tinello and Bice, it has a loyal, upscale New York clientele. You won’t go wrong with the Parmigiana of zucchini with smoked mozzarella, fresh tomato, and herbs, the Grilled and sliced Piedmontese strip loin with Italian arugula, or the Veal scaloppine with grilled eggplant and smoked mozzarella, served with braised escarole. Actually, you probably can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but these suggestions might help you narrow it down. (Interesting tidbit: Il Gattopardo means “The Leopard”, as in the 1963 classic Italian film starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale and directed by Luchino Visconti.)
Il Tinello Ristorante I will admit, the only reason I went to Il Tinello was because it’s one of Regis Philbin’s (of Regis and Kelly fame) favorite Italian restaurants, and my best friend considers Regis Philbin to be one of her favorite TV personalities. So it was on another cold December night, the night of the Rockefeller Center tree lighting no less, that I found myself, festive and hungry, waiting for my dear friend (who was very slowly making her way uptown in a taxi) in the cozy bar. When at last she arrived, we were graciously seated at a white linen-covered table and attended to by an accommodating and knowledgeable team of waiters. One of them rolled up the antipasti cart – the freshest mozzarella, funghi, tomatoes, zucchini, and so on – from which were were able to choose whatever combination we desired. Heavenly. The menu is vast and filled with savory-sounding dishes, but did I mention that said friend is a very particular eater. Spaghetti al olio, not on the menu, no problem. Veal marsala, not on the menu, no problem. Seriously. It was one of the best meals either of us has ever had … and we’ve had a lot.
As a side note, if you’re looking for Regis Philbin’s favorite downtown Italian restaurants, they are Valbella Ristorante on West 13th Street in the Meatpacking District and Benito II (aka Il Benito) on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.
Insieme Offers haute Italian dining that combines the traditional and the contemporary. The space manages to be sleek and modern and warm and inviting. The same can be said for the food. For a lighter meal, I like the Octopus Carpaccio and one of their delicious pastas. Located at The Michelangelo Hotel on 7th Avenue at 51st Street, it works well as a pre-/post-theatre dinner spot, but is worth a visit regardless.
Il Buco Romantic and comfortable are the first words that come to mind when I think of Il Buco. The tables are tiny and packed impossibly close together, Italian pottery and wine racks line the walls, copper pots hang from the ceiling, and branch-like light fixtures illuminate the country-house-like space. Open for almost fifteen years, this Mediterranean restaurant draws New Yorkers of all types with its irresistible food. Ingredients are sourced from local farmers with specialty items, which they also sell, imported from Umbria. Located on Bond Street, which is north of Houston, between The Bowery and Lafayette Street, it is an off-the-beaten path gem worth seeking out.