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il mulino and rao - worth it?

  • d

planning a trip in january...we stay on the upper west side...have been trying to get a reservation at il mulino and of course the line was busy...should i keep trying? is it worth it? what about rao? should i try to get a reservation there?...what do you recommend for italian on the upper west side? we will be on w 72nd near central park...thanks dee dee

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  1. This is a big debate on this site, but I say Il Mulino is definitely not worth it. It's basically very good old-fashioned red-sauce Italian, but absolutely nothing that will make you have an epiphany. Plus, you'll have to wait a long time even with a reservation, the waiter will fleece you on any specials you order, and the whole meal will be monumentally expensive. Don't bother.

    1 Reply
    1. re: EatClerk

      I can't stand Il Mulino. The wait is ridiculous, the tables are jammed together so that you could eat off your neighbor's plate if you wanted, the prices are absurd, the specials even more so, too much garlic and most everything is made in a pretty ham-handed fashion, the waiters rush you and the wine list is atrocious. There're so many other places to eat Italian in NYC. I agree - don't bother. Go to Il Buco.

    2. Il Mulino is definitely worth it. Just ask for the prices beforehand of the specials. Those extra little ingredients have a way of escalating the check.

      Rao is next to impossible to get a reservation. Try Lupa downtown.

      1. d
        Dan Sonenberg

        Scaletta, on 77th between Columbus and CPW, used to be a fabulous and largely unheralded restaurant. Not sure if it's even still there, or if it's still as great as it used to be, but it was really lovely about 4 or 5 years ago. Maybe someone can confirm?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Dan Sonenberg
          d
          David Lerner

          Recently went to Scaletta with family, and it was indeed better than any of us expected or remembered. Not any kind of unique experience, but good solidly prepared food.

        2. l
          LES Resident

          You won't get into Rao's, but you're not missing anything. It's good solid red sauce Italian, but the only reason people want to go there is because you have to know someone who has a regular table to get in. Also because you can tell your friends that you've been. I've been and it's good but no better than any other premium Italian (and there are numerous in NYC). I wouldn't go back if I was paying and have to laugh about how much press it gets. If they opened their 1 table seating per night policy it would be just another old New York restaurant.

          1. j
            JASON BECKER

            If nothing else.........have a drink at Rao's. It is a classic NYC axperience. Take someone you enjoy being with and soak up the atmosphere. By 9:30, you can grab a table after they begin to clear. Frankly, the food is not very interesting, so I would just go for the bar. Last time I went, we had several drinks at the bar (great time) and had the opportunity to be seated at 9:30, but declined and went for dinner downtown.
            Believe me, anyone can eat there without reservation. Tables begin to open around 9:00-9:30 and the kitchen stays open for at least two more hours.

            Good Luck

            1 Reply
            1. re: JASON BECKER
              s
              Seuratthedot

              What a fantastic bit of knowledge. Is the bar crowded at Rao's when you have done this? What time would you say you need to arrive to get one of the 9-9:30 tables?

            2. Check out this previous discussion of Il Mulino, which I think covered a wide range of opinions (link below).

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1. d
                David Lerner

                Il Mulino is a wonderful NY experience if you don't mind the absurd cost.

                Right near where you are staying, 'Cesca is quite good.

                1. My wife and I just got back from a trip to NYC (we live in LA) at the end of October. We were there for 6 days. Tried to get in as many good restaurants as possible. We hit Le Bernadin, Gotham Bar & Grill (lunch), Gramercy Tavern (lunch), Grimaldi's in DUMBO, Babbo, Daniel, and yes, Il Mulino among other places.

                  For us, Il Mulino was by far and away, the best place we ate at that entire week. In fact we loved it so much after our first try (on our first night in town), that we went back twice more... once for lunch, and one more time for dinner. A couple of things to note, it IS crowded, and it IS loud, but it is also FANTASTIC. We had GREAT service, and the food was AMAZING... in our opinion, we liked the food at Il Mulino better than any of the other places we visited. That is not to say that the other places were bad, in fact they were all great, but Il Mulino was a cut above.

                  As far as the complaints I've read on the board about prices, especially of the specials. I would say that our checks at Il Mulino were not appreciably larger than any of the other places (with the exception of Grimaldi's) that we went to. In fact one or two of the other places were more expensive. I would say the check sizes really varied by 5-10% max at these places. Yes they were all expensive, and yes it is a lot of money, but Il Mulino was really no more or no less expensive than any other high end place.

                  Il Mulino's specials are expensive, but for what you get it is a good value. For example, the rack of lamb special was either $55 or $65, but for that you get the ENTIRE rack... all 8 bones, served impeccably, again, expensive but worth it. The white truffle appetizer (risotto or pappardelle) was also expensive, but the portion of truffles you get is VERY generous, especially considering how expensive truffles are this year/season.

                  Yes it is VERY crowded, and people have been known to wait for their tables (even with a reservation) for a long time. My recommendation would be to do lunch there... same menu, same staff, and fantastic food... all at a much more civilized pace. Or have dinner late, say 9:30 or 10:00pm. I would stay away from dinner there on a Friday or Saturday night... but isn't that true with any really popular place?

                  Il Mulino is not for the faint of heart, but if you really are looking for a great chow experience, you really should not miss this place.

                  I've been meaning to post a trip report, but work has been overly hectic. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to drop me an email or post here, and I'll try to check. In any event, enjoy the big apple!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: woo!

                    One of my points is affirmed here: that rack of (young) lamb that's always a special at Il Mulino is the standard-issue Australian thing that you can buy at Costco for $9.00. So they sell it for $65? Can you say "13% food cost"? Talk about a staggering rip-off.

                    1. re: jbraynolds

                      I would be very surprised to see and ENTIRE rack of lamb... which is several pounds for just $9.00. Maybe $9.00 per pound? Also, they serve a much superior grade of lamb which is the Colorado prime domestic, which is easily DOUBLE that of the Australian product. The size of the lamb at Il Mulino was MUCH larger than any ANZ product... which is indicative of the Colorado/domestic products. My two cents. As I said before, Il Mulino is NOT cheap, but my very recent, first hand experience is that it is no more than any of the other high end restaurants in NYC.

                      1. re: woo!

                        I've had their rack a few times, always the same: about 7-8 inches across, 7 to 8 ribs, about the circumference of a beer can? That's the standard-issue one that you can get at Costco or from d'Artagnan. I pay about $9.00 or so for a cryovaced one at my local Costco and about the same price, wholesale, from d'Artagnan.

                        1. re: jbraynolds

                          Ahhh... now I understand. The rack we had (twice) was significantly larger. 8 bones, and easily much larger than a beer can... at least 150%, if not double. The whole rack, uncooked, probably was in excess of 2lbs... and it was clearly the superior domestic, Colorado product. NOT the smaller, somewhat puny, ANZ product. Doesn't that sound like a better value?

                      2. re: jbraynolds

                        That supposed "baby" rack of lamb had chops the size of beef ribs. If this lamb was a "baby" it was dramatically genetically altered! By the way, not the best lamb I've had by a long shot!! Meanwhile I asked the waiter why my veal chop stuffed with fontina and proscuitto tasted like liver. "I forgot to mention that the chef added foie gras", he said. Now that was an odd combination that didn't work as far as I was concerned.
                        Also the pasta we split (a straw and hay with mushrooms and peas in cream sauce) came after an incredibly long wait and was swimming in soup. The pasta was way overcooked, but the sauce tasted like flour. We could only assume that there was a last minute attempt to thicken the sauce which failed.
                        From the other raves, we were obviously on a rare off night. And I don't even want to get into the subject of the dessert.

                        1. re: jbraynolds

                          That supposed "baby" rack of lamb had chops the size of beef ribs. If this lamb was a "baby" it was dramatically genetically altered! By the way, not the best lamb I've had by a long shot!! Meanwhile I asked the waiter why my veal chop stuffed with fontina and proscuitto tasted like liver. "I forgot to mention that the chef added foie gras", he said. Now that was an odd combination that didn't work as far as I was concerned.
                          Also the pasta we split (a straw and hay with mushrooms and peas in cream sauce) came after an incredibly long wait and was swimming in soup. The pasta was way overcooked, but the sauce tasted like flour. We could only assume that there was a last minute attempt to thicken the sauce which failed.
                          From the other raves, we were obviously on a rare off night. And I don't even want to get into the subject of the dessert.

                      3. I have been a five times (2 lunches, 3 dinners). I enjoy the food but I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask for the price of ANYTHING without a listed price as my first experience at Il Mulino was a shock. I was with a large group for lunch and none of us had dined there previously. Some ordered specials and most were indeed more than double the price of all comparable dishes on the menu. I didn't hear her order but one of the group stated (after the bill came) that her request for "a glass of red wine" resulted in the selection of one of the most expensive options without a mention by the server of what had been selected. Finally, after the relatively large lunch we were all served grappa in a manner that implied it was being offered as a gift for our patronage (our bill must have already been huge at that point and the restaurant was not busy at that time) but it was charged to our bill. A very very expensive business lunch.

                        Now when I go I just make sure that I ask about everything that is offered and have thus avoided similar problems and enjoyed the food very much. The one bill problem I have experienced since that first lunch was corrected without attitude. High quality ingredients and big portions for sure. Same dishes/recepies I knew from nice old Italian restaurants in Memphis, Tennessee but the ingredients are fresher/better and the preparation has never been off. I would not go there for new Italian food experiences but if someone with an expense account offers, I have never passed it up.

                        One more thing. This might be atypical as I have not been there often. A notably high percentage of the waiters I have had really hammed it up but I imagine that is what most of their customers want. You know, come to a nice Italian restaurant and just like in the movies lots of people are there having a good time talking, eating good food, drinking wine, and not caring about spending money, you have the best lamb chops you've had in a long time and by the end of the meal you're getting your picture taken with the funny waiter(s).

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Birch

                          On re-reading my post I think it may seem like I was slamming people who go to Il Mulino. I hope not because I still go there from time to time. I just wouldn't want someone visiting NYC who was thinking of going to Le Bernardin or Gramercy Tavern or Babbo or Aquavit or wherever and having food adventures where they try dishes that are maybe new interesting experiences in themselves to go to Il Mulino and not have that kind of experience and then maybe they aren't used to how the pricing operates there (as I was) and they are disappointed in that as well.

                        2. Il Mulino is worth it. To get through, try calling first thing in the morning, before they start seating customers.

                          If Il Mulino doesn't work out, there are some good Italian options on the upper East side - Scalinatella, Nino's, Emilio's are all great.

                          If you can get a reservation at Rao's, can I come too?

                          1. Il Mulino is old-style Italian fare. It is very, VERY traditional in preparation and recipies. Their specialties are not their specials, although they make their fish very well. For the quality and freshness of their food, I would not say it is overpriced

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: LYuan

                              For the UWS...Celeste (always crowded) is wonderful, with truly authentic Italian food. And the prices? About 1/10 of those at Il Mulino. A bit more upscale, but still on the UWS, is 'Cesca.

                              1. re: Will4Food

                                Will4Food, have you been to 'Cesca since they changed chefs? I enjoyed dining there when Valenti was in the kitchen, but thought I heard less favorable reviews of his replacement. I'd love to go again if the recommendations are positive. Thanks

                                1. re: uwsgrazer

                                  never went to Cesca when Valenti was chef but we've been three times since and enjoyed it more each time. the duck main I had last time was awesome, rich but not too fatty, and the salads are original, try the farro.

                            2. I am a fan of il mulino, that being said, lunch there is a much better experience and is easier to get into than dinner. You can always try to walk in for a late lunch on a weekday.

                              Rao's is great too - not as good as il mulino but is almost impossible to get into. Also now that there is one in Vegas, the I have been to Raos thing is not nearly as cool as it used to be...

                              Babbo is better than both these places btw.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tpigeon

                                Yeah Rao's is not going to happen, It is still impossible unless you know someone to get in. You can get a drink at the bar , the experience is the thing there not the food...Il Mulino is a joke, I will pay through the nose if I feel I am getting a great meal and a great dining experience
                                Il Mulino is mediocre Italian-American food that is beyond insultingly expensive for no good reason. Its cramped, The upsell from the staff is annoying and the crowd is a usually a mix of touristy and/or obnoxious.

                              2. Il Mulino was one of the first restaurants in NYC that was placed on Jfood's DNR list. And that was >20 years ago. Does jfood hold a grudge. With the deplorable service and attitude he experienced that night plus the sheer arrogance of the owner, it was well deserved.

                                Jfood would NEVER spend a penny at this place. And if you have read jfood's posts you know he gives every reataurant mulitple chances but this place scored a perfect negative-10 in everything.

                                1. Never been ti Ill Mulino, but you probably wont get into Raos unless you know someone. Its all right. Its more about saying you've eaten there then the food.