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Anniversary Dinner Recomendations Needed

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My wife are I are looking for an Italian restaurant in the city for our anniversary. I have heard mixed reviews, specifically on this board, about Del Posto, Babbo, Marea, Alto or Scarpetta.

I barely post on this board but use it often for recomendations so please help me. Where should we dine? What is your favorite Italian place?

Thanks!

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  1. Italian food tends to be one of those controversial issues here - everyone's got their favorite, or the place they think is overrated, and of course a whole bunch who think ALL Italian is overrated because only French & New American food can be considered "Haute Cuisine" and are still bristling over Del Posto getting a fourth star.

    As someone who prefers Italian to French on most nights, though, here's my general thoughts:

    Del Posto: just lovely. Great service, a bit more romantic in atmosphere than any of the others, if you're the sort who goes for the white-tableclothy thing. The food is fantastic and while it's arguably the most expensive of the lot (besides Marea, depending what you order) you really do get a lot of bang for your buck. It's the cheapest of the NYT four-starrers, and considering you get four courses for the prix fixe (antipasti, pasta, secondi, dolci) plus an assortment of amuses, pre-desserts, post-desserts, and bread service that's practically a course of its own, it's a steal at the current $95 price.

    Babbo: a little less than Del Posto price-wise if you're ordering the usual Italian four courses, and without the trappings of "fine dining" - it's a classic neighborhood joint at heart, just the most difficult neighborhood joint to get a reservation in. Some find the music a bit loud, though, so for a romantic evening it might not be the place to go. Portions are hearty but not gigantic - they're appropriate for a four-course dinner, though if you were to skip antipasti you probably wouldn't leave hungry.

    Falai: not on your list but I thought I'd add them to the mix. Northern Italian / Florentine with a fun "experimental" twist - I (and others) have used the phrase "Batali meets Wylie Dufresne" to describe Chef Falai before. Unlike Wylie, though - who I love, mind you - Falai never over-intellectualizes his dishes. At heart they're classic Italian - just having a bit of fun with the presentation. His pastas are spectacular (I could wax poetic about his Pici w/ wild boar ragu for hours) and his secondi have a hearty, rustic base to them under the bells & whistles. Much better than when they first opened and the last time Bruni reviewed them (2006, I think?) - they've really upped their game, and the three other food-obsessed (and quite critical) souls I went to dinner with last time I was there all agreed it was as good as, even at times better than, any meal we'd had at Babbo of late. The setting is also very neighborhoody, but quieter - more romantic than Babbo, certainly. A la carte, about the same price range & portion size.

    Scarpetta: Excellent, at times reaches the same levels as the above, though I detect less personality & creativity. It's all perfectly prepared - I can't say I've ever had a BAD meal there, or even an average one. Just not as much "wow" factor as I get at the others.

    Marea: A lot of wow factor to start, then things peter off... The crudi, antipasti, and pastas are great, and then the secondi.... meh. They're good, for sure, simply and impeccably (if not terribly creatively) prepared - just VERY expensive for what you're getting. Were I to go again, I'd order some crudi, maybe two rounds of antipasti - one cold, one hot - and then finish with a pasta.

    Esca: again, wasn't on your initial list, but should be considered. Maybe better than Marea for a seafood feast IMHO if only because the secondi are better. I'd rank the pastas higher at Marea, though.

    Alto: hard to say with the changes they're going through. I might wait to see how things are being reviewed under the new staff. That said, from my limited experience there I'd file them with Scarpetta - very good, not a lot of "wow" though.

    Anyway, that's my 2 cents on the current Italian scene. Can't comment on Lincoln (another name that will probably be brought up) as I haven't been yet, and probably won't until they're no longer charging $24 for a single scallop, however good that scallop may be.

    In summation:
    For romance and ambience, and classic flavors: Del Posto
    For creativity & wow: Babbo or Falai
    For classics, but with less pomp than Del Posto: Scarpetta
    For a seafood craving: Esca straight through or Marea sans secondi.

    -----
    Babbo
    110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

    Del Posto
    85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

    Esca
    402 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036

    Falai
    68 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

    Scarpetta
    355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

    Marea
    240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

    2 Replies
    1. re: sgordon

      Regarding Lincoln, the $24 scallop is an anomaly, and shouldn't keep you from experiencing Benno's interpretation of Italian food, which, by the way, is delicious. It's also one of the nicest dining rooms in the city.

      My favorites: Babbo, Marea, Lincoln, Alto

      1. re: sgordon

        Thank you for the very detailed suggestions. I am thinking Falai might be a great option. Thanks again.

        -----
        Falai
        68 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002

      2. While I thought the space was lovely at Del Posto, I found both the service and the food to be lacking, and not up to the expectations I had based on reviews and accolades.

        -----
        Del Posto
        85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

        1. "Italian food tends to be one of those controversial issues here - everyone's got their favorite, or the place they think is overrated, and of course a whole bunch who think ALL Italian is overrated because only French & New American food can be considered "Haute Cuisine" and are still bristling over Del Posto getting a fourth star."

          So true. Also bear in mind that we Chowhounders are an opinionated lot, but for the most part lack the breadth of experience (and/or open minded palates) of the best professional reviewers. So I wouldn't take the mixed reviews too seriously.

          Del Posto, Babbo, Marea, Alto and Scarpetta are all wonderful in their own way. My personal rankings are:

          1. Marea
          2. Babbo
          3. Alto
          4. Scarpetta
          5. Del Posto

          -----
          Babbo
          110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

          Del Posto
          85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

          Scarpetta
          355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

          Marea
          240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

          1. I've been to all of those you listed except Del Posto. You would not go wrong with any of them, but my choice right now over all of them would be Ciano. Having dined there twice, I have been impressed by the quality and creativity, and the atmosphere is so warm and civilized, lively but not noisy. Shea Gallante is a phenomenal chef, and the wine list is very interesting.

            1 Reply
            1. It really depends on what you're looking for. If you are leaning towards seafood, for example, then Marea is the obvious choice, even if you won't be ordering a secondi. If you'd like Italian haute cuisine, then Del Posto would be best.

              Personally, I would rule out Alto and Scarpetta. Each in its own way delivers excellent food, but Alto's room just felt a bit cold and corporate to me, not romantic. Add in the recent chef change as well. Scarpetta is great but pretty loud and lively, and although I love it I wouldn't consider it for an anniversary meal for this reason.

              Babbo is great. It is noisy as well, but the room is very nice and it still feels like a special meal. The problem there is that reservations are very difficult to get. You have to call exactly 28 days before at 10 AM and hope to get through before reservations for your day are booked.

              Each of these restaurants is at worst very good, so you can't go wrong.

              -----
              Babbo
              110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

              Del Posto
              85 10th Avenue, New York, NY 10011

              Scarpetta
              355 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10014

              Marea
              240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019