Alto review / Comparison with l'Impero
Had dinner at Alto last night. I was very eager to try it in order to compare with our very satisfying experience at l'Impero. It turned out to be quite pleasant overall, but I really prefer l'Impero. We were seated in one of the small upstairs rooms, which was comfortable and quiet, compared to the somewhat cramped downstairs which also seemed noisy. The decor is not as sterile as I had been led to expect, but lacked the warmth that I felt at l'Impero. We had the 4-course dinner, starting with partridge sausage (excellent) and mushroom soup (very good), then the duck tortellini (good) and the agnolotti with rabbit (very good). We enjoyed these as much as the first and pasta courses at l'Impero. The main courses, though also very good, were not as interesting. The rack of lamb was not as good as l'Impero's loin and sausage and the venison was as good as farm-raised venison gets, but at l'Impero we had guinea fowl with a liver sauce which was really wonderful. No guinea fowl on the menu at Alto. Desserts were also pretty much equal at both places, good though not spectacular. The prix fixe is $82 at Alto, $64 at l'Impero. I feel the difference is not warranted. Alto emphasizes northern Italian food, l'Impero southern, and my sense is Alto is fancier while l'Impero is a bit more rustic, more similar to Babbo which is also among my favorites. For overall value and satisfaction, I will be much more inclined to return to l'Impero than to Alto. Nonetheless, I would place both among the top Italian restaurants in Manhattan.
Thanks for the comparative review, rrems. We've been to L'Impero since Michael White took over, and I loved his food. We haven't been to Babbo, so I can't make that comparison, but, in my view, White's cuisine was more refined than Scott Conant's, which I thought was quite rustic.
Alto is high on my "go to" list. I'm looking forward to ordering the duck that MMRuth wrote about in her very positive review.