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CA hound visiting NY (Italian)

I am visiting NY next week from LA.

I love italian food. Even though LA isnt world famous for its offerings, I really think we have a lot of great food offerings out here. Even though Batali's Osteria Mozza in LA is far from my favorite, I am willing to give Babbo a try here in NYC. Aside from that I dont know where else to go, and I would love to eat Italian 3-4 times while in the city.

Batali might be the most famous italian chef in NYC, but not necessairly the best. Are there other secretly awesome italian places that cook modern italian fare that they locals strongly prefer? Are there any rising star chefs still under the radar that are being very experimental with the cuisine?

I really like restaurants that are more modern but casual-ish. Wine bars, enotecas, and other restos are great too if the food is italian inspired and delicious.

I also favor really great appetizers, smaller-plates, and pastas over large heavier courses.

Any suggestions.

I know NY has hundreds of great italian restos, but I would like someone who cooks with the same updated and modern spin as Batali.

PS: I think Pizzeria Mozza is the best pizza I have tasted in this country. If any NYers have been to Pizzeria Mozza in LA and know of a better place to get pizza in NY, please let me know. I have heard Otto doesnt really measure up in the pizza department.

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  1. My favorite NYC Italian restaurants (at the moment):
    Babbo: the perennial favorite. As a lover of Italian food, you would definitely be doing yourself a disservice by overlooking it.
    A Voce: very modern in decor and attitude, outstanding Italian menu. Smart casual.
    Via Emilia: also modern, and worth a trip just for the homemade pastas.
    'ino: the cutest little Italian wine bar, among the originals in a now wine bar-saturated city (not that I'm complaining). Terrific crostini and grilled panini, also popular for brunch.
    Caffe Falai: authentic espresso drinks and Italian breakfast pastries (cornetti, bomboloni). They also serve hot food, which I have not yet tried.

    Honorable mention:
    Felidia: still a great classic, as far as I am concerned, though not modern or casual.
    Insieme: extremely modern decor and updated Italian classics with great service and wine list.
    Lupa: many many people (including CHers) love this place. I prefer Babbo, though I have only eaten at Lupa once, quite some time ago.
    Crispo: casual, lively and reasonably priced crowd-pleaser (large portions) with a great selection of antipasti and salumi, as well as a good number of wines by the glass.
    bar.vetro: another one of the first among the man Italian wine bars, bar.vetro is more modern and upscale than 'ino, with more entree options.
    Bellavitae: authentic classic recipes (small portions) with a trendy and hip clientele. I think it is overpriced, but good and with several standout "piccoli piatti" (small plates).
    Tarallucci e Vino: another noteworthy Italian caffe, with good espresso drinks and pastries. Also good for breakfast. Serve wines by the glass all day.

    Pizza:
    The best pizza in NYC is probably at DiFara's in Brooklyn. No one else makes it like Dom Demarco does, and I'd say it's worth the trip to Midwood to get some (make sure you go on a week day to avoid incredibly long waits).
    If you would like to sit down and enjoy a thin-crust pizza Italian-style, I would suggest Una Pizza Napoletana. Second place goes to Giorgione.
    As for individual slices, the best can be found at Patsy's (the Harlem location) and Artichoke Basille.

    Searching for any of the restaurants I have mentioned above will yield plenty more info on them, I'm sure.

    1. I really like the pizzas at Otto, and the small plates are great too. I'd give it a try. Many in NYC are in agreement that Babbo is the best modern Italian experience to be had here, so it's certainly worth a try. I also like Peasant and Apizz, but I wouldn't say they're better than Babbo. For small plates, you might also try Dell'anima and Bacaro--I haven't been to either but have read good things. 'ino and 'inoteca are also very good.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Lucia

        Oh yeah- add Peasant to my current favorites list. I can't believe I left them out. They have everything you asked for: excellent appetizers, a variety of delicious pizzas from their massive brick oven, and a wine bar downstairs. I would call their style "modern rustic".

        1. re: Lucia

          Thanks lucia

          I have already penciled in either 'ino or 'inoteca. I have also listed Apizz as a maybe. I will look at Bacaro and Peasant.

          Thanks again.

        2. vvvindaloo pretty much said it all but on the Italian front...but I wanted to chime in on the pizza front.

          I have been to Pizzeria Mozza in LA and many NYC pizza shops, and the style of Mozza is completely different from what you'll find in NYC. However, the creativity and quality of the toppings on a Mozza pie can maybe be comparable to Otto's toppings or Di Fara. But the crust of a Mozza pie is unlike any other I've ever had in NYC. It's more like artisanal bread than crust, but in a super good and rustic and delicious way. If you're OK with a more traditional pie but very good crust, Neopolitan style, then try Una Pizza Napoletana (they have a wood fired oven).

          But I don't think you'll find something like Mozza out here given how unusual the crust is at Mozza. NYC styles of pizza are typically New York, New York-Neopolitan, and Neopolitan style, as defined by sliceny.com. I still think Mozza just barely edges out Di Fara / Una Pizza / Totonno's of Coney Island etc. as my favorite pizza ever (although I've never been to Apizza Scholl's or Pizza Bianco) but the styles are really not comparable.

          Totonno's = ONLY the Coney Island location, cheesy, thin crust, but with some internal chew, classic NY style, well executed over and over
          Una Pizza = Naples style, more of a bready crust, nice big char bubbles on the crust, but limited to only 4 styles, no extra toppings/pepper flakes/extra cheese/etc. since the guy is a traditionalist and very strict in adhering to a philosophy of simplicity and great ingredients, but pricey at $21 per pie (one is enough to feed one person)
          Patsy's = ONLY the East Harlem locatoin, crisp but thin crust, a little pillowy on the inside, maybe a little bit more internal tenderness than Totonno's but the cheese/sauce isn't as high quality, BUT they do slices. However, sometimes they aren't on the ball and the oven isn't hot enough.
          Di Fara = Dom DeMarco has a very idiosyncratic style of making pizza, uses a gas oven, handles the very hot pie with his bare hands, uses a custom blend of parmesan, throws on olive oil at the end, and cuts fresh basil on the pie, but has some great toppings like artichoke. However his pie tends towards the wet/greasy style, and some don't like the parmesan.

          8 Replies
          1. re: kathryn

            THanks for the pizza info Kathryn. I really love Mozza's exotic bread (vs crust) and that is 90% of the appeal to me. I think lombardis and Joes Pizza (7 Carmine Street) are good, but I dont think I will go back to eat them during my trip.

            At any rate, I am coming to NYC so I need to eat an awesome artisinal pizza one way or the other. Your recs are VERY VERY helpful.

            Thanks for the web link.

            1. re: jlrobe

              i'd highly recommend di fara's. it's pretty much the standard to which all other ny pizzas should be judged. it's the quality of ingredients and the care he puts into the pizza. it's really unmatched. you'll be greatly disappointed wth the pizzas at otto after having them at mozza. otto is really good though for some small bites and wine.

              1. re: cdub

                for a tourist/no car to go to difaras is quite a jouney..could take up a good part of a day..i would not recommend this if time is limited

                1. re: intrepid

                  "or a tourist/no car to go to difaras is quite a jouney..could take up a good part of a day..i would not recommend this if time is limited"

                  Thanks for the warning intrepid. It is right next to a subway stop, so I assumed it wouldnt be that difficult. Who knows though.

                  Any cool things to see that far east in brooklyn?

                  I also planned to take the 7 train (I think that is the train number) to Queens to eat some good food and see real NYC. I have been to manhattan, but never ventured into the boroughs.

                  1. re: jlrobe

                    pizza is good, but imho not worth the time it takes to get there, and then back to nyc...unless you want to sacrifice a good chunk of the day

                    1. re: jlrobe

                      It's not just the train ride that makes DiFara's time consuming. It's that once you get there (unless you're there right when it opens), you'll encounter a bit of delay getting your food. Dom works at his own pace. And there are huge crowds now. And having lived in that neighborhood, I would have to say there's not much there unless you want to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The cherry blossoms should still be in bloom. But you would have to walk about 15-20 minutes and take another subway (but back in the direction of Manhattan).

                      As a tourist, I'd rather do the Queens 7 train thing as things are more concentrated in one location. You can fit in quite many countries and eateries in a very short time and distance on the 7 line. I think you'd probably get more bang for your time in Queens than going to Di Fara.

                      1. re: jlrobe

                        For Outer Boroughs suggestions, please post on our OB board: http://www.chowhound.com/boards/19

                  2. re: jlrobe

                    Lombardi's and Joe's are actually towards the bottom of my ranking of top NY pizzerias! I hope my taste in pizza helps guide you towards crusty-cheesy-saucy heaven!

                2. The original comment has been removed
                  1. Caffe Falai and Falai Panetteria are both good options, as is the pricier Falai restaurant (on Clinton Street). Expensive, but worth it. That's the first place I think of when you say "modern Italian."