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WHAT IS THE BEST CHOICE FOR AN ITALIAN EXPERIENCE?

My 30 year old son and I are taking a short trip to New York in early November and I'm trying to figure out the best way to get a weekday Italian fix. I definitely want something we can write home about! Should I try to score a high-end rez, go for quantity (pasta/wine coma) at a reasonable price, or crawl across Manhattan noshing and shopping? I don't want to waste time or money on unworthy calories and I don't want anything I can imitate at home. Ideas? Faves?

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  1. Well if you want high end Italian then you would be looking at a place like Babbo but rezs can be tough, Del Posto is also a good choice. A new place getting a lot of buzz (some for good reasons some for bad) is Carbone, they are doing kind of a retro classic NY red sauce place.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Spiritchaser

      Carbone looks good. Might be too sceney for us:

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/893927
      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/899733

      Spiritchaser, I'm confused . . there are also posts from 2006?

      I guess I'm not the only one who is confused:

      http://nyfoodee.tumblr.com/post/46776...

      This is making me want to head to Brooklyn and eat at Frost :)

    2. 1. Where will you be staying and how far are you willing to travel?
      2. You specified that you wanted to get a weekday fix, but are you looking to dine for lunch or dinner?
      3. What is your budget exactly?

      If you want to have an "experience" and enjoy food that you could not recreate at home, I'd suggest:
      - Torrisi Italian Specialties (reasonably priced multi-course meal, for food that is Italian in spirit but globally inspired in soul; open for lunch and dinner)
      - Del Posto (I'm not sure where you've traveling from, but this is as ritzy as it gets for Italian in the city. Lunch prix-fixe during the week is hard to beat)
      - L'Apicio, L'Artusi, Dell'anima, Perla, Charlie Bird are all fun and modern places

      Just avoid all the overpriced Italian joints clustered around midtown and the theater district, unless you were serious about "going for quantity"...

      1 Reply
      1. re: zeeEats

        Yeah, I've heard Torrisi is excellent! I had my mind set on Del Posto until I started reading about Babbo. My daughter and I were in NYC last year and went to Eataly, but we got there too late to try everything we wanted to try.Tried a few things but we were rushed. I definitely want to steer clear of anything like a tourist mill (quantity over quality) I can get that here (Dallas.) But, if it was truly awesome red sauce and pasta I'd go for it. My mother in law was first generation Italian American (Chicago) and could really churn out great all day "Sunday gravy," meatballs, brazeoles, etc. but I don't think she ever heard of most of the things on the menu at Del Posto!
        I'll look up all the ones you mentioned! Thank you!

      2. If you are looking for an "Italian Experience" you may want to skip the fancier places like Del Posto (which is all around excellent) which will have more emphasis on "high end" than Italian.
        Three places we like for fabulous food and a continental experience.
        I Trulli
        Da Ciro
        Marcony
        All have excellent fresh pasta.

        1. I think Babbo is, hands down, the best option. Some of their best items - like, the octopus in limoncello, or the lamb's tongue vinaigrette, are for sure things you wouldn't be making at home. And their prices are actually quite reasonable for the quality - very few entrees are over thirty, a rarity at higher-end places these days. That said, it's a VERY tough rez to get, but I think it's worth doing the phone / redial dance, and if it doesn't work out there are a number of other good options - but I managed to get a prime time (7:30) Saturday night table for October 19th just yesterday. I had to redial, like, thirty times to get through, and then wait on hold for four minutes listening to scratchy old opera recordings, so you need to be patient. But it's not impossible. If it's a weeknight, it might be even easier. And if you're okay dining early (like, 5:30) or late (say, 10PM or after) - even for weekends you can usually find those tables on Opentable the morning they become available.

          After Babbo, I'd recommend:
          Lincoln - very creative. They're also a great lunch option, as their prix fixe is reasonably priced.
          Del Posto - again, a good lunch option (splurge the extra $10 to make it a four-course meal over the standard lunch three) though a more refined atmosphere than Babbo. Dinner is quite expensive - their prix fixe is going up to $126 in November, I believe.

          Carbone and Torrisi are worth considering, but keep in mind that both skew a bit more "Italian American" than pure Italian.

          19 Replies
          1. re: sgordon

            I just looked at Torrisi's food menu and wine list (not a single Italian wine on the premises). If people eat at a restaurant that serves pasta (even if they are serving it with corn), people in Manhattan think this is an Italian experience?

            1. re: barberinibee

              I really like what the Torrisi and Carbone boys are doing at Torrisi Italian Specialties. Sure, their wine list skews more towards Californian and the cooking may be only Italian in concept (with flavor and style influences from all over the world), but the food is outstanding and quite edgy.

              barberinibee, what do you think is an Italian experience anyway? Traditional red sauce joints? I'm of the opinion that "people in Manhattan" prefer great food over tacky and tired cliches any day.

              1. re: zeeEats

                Hi zee,

                I live in Italy, so I think the Italian experience of eating is partaking of food and wine of Italy.

                Having never been to Torrisi, and being curious, I just did some googling, and ended up reading this article in NY Mag

                http://www.grubstreet.com/2012/08/roc...

                Really does look to me like the owners are totally focused on tacky and tired cliches. ("Moves.") When I do get back to Manhattan, usually a couple of times a year, I am struck by how little the food scene there has to do with eating good food (let alone "great") and how much more it has to do with gimmicks. Which isn't to say the food is bad, but the gimmicks rule.

                I think it is time to invent a new word special to NYC to replace "foodie" that conveys more accurately that people are looking for restaurant experiences that reflect back at them their own ideas about taste.

                I think the chef Paul Pairet (in Shanghai) has captured that weird relationship to food with the concept of "pscyho taste." He's said "the perception of the meal should be completely based on you.” You know, like: If it's Italian to you, the fact that is has nothing to do with Italy except psychologically, is irrelevant.

                I guess. I don't live there anymore.

                1. re: barberinibee

                  Funny that you based your entire perception of a restaurant based on a single Grubstreet article. Keep in mind that Torrisi Italian Specialties and Carbone are totally different restaurants, in concept, style, pricing, everything. But you are entitled to your own opinions of the two chefs/owners, whatever they may be.

                  It's too bad that you care so little about the dining scene in NYC, compared to your oh-so-sophisticated Italy. The OP asked for recommendations in Manhattan, on the Manhattan board - did it ever occur to you that she was visiting NYC and not Italy? I was merely trying to suggest a few places that would make for a special "experience" for any visitor.

                  1. re: zeeEats

                    Well said. I find it curious that anyone would criticize a restaurant that he or she has never visited.

                    1. re: Lacrosse_Gastronomic

                      Well said, to a degree. Zee Eats and many others, as soon as a place serves a good red sauce, or a seafood marinara, or lasagna, it's tagged as italian American. Red sauce is so very Italian, as is oil and garlic and truffles and sausage etc. Different regions different dishes. But pasta will be found everywhere. San Marzano tomatoes are delicious, and cheese oh the cheese.Anyway, I agree the OP is in nyc and wants the Italian experience.
                      I too recommend Babbo, Marea, but also Bar Pitti, and Osteria Morini, Torisi Specialties for a snack, and Motorino for pizza.

                  2. re: barberinibee

                    We like this Italian restaurant (more on Outer Boroughs Board):

                    http://www.ilpaiolonyc.com/

                    We loved Falai. Sadly (for us), Chef Mauro Buffo is now back in Italy. He is the Executive Chef at Restaurant 1500, Vigilius Mountain Resort:

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/233792

                    SO has been to Babbo. I have not. I really enjoyed Lupa. Haven't been in ages, too hard to get a reservation (SO won't dine at the bar). I like simplicity. Difficult reservations (Babbo, MomoFoko, etc.) don't work for me.

                    1. re: financialdistrictresident

                      It's not as difficult to get a lunch reservation at Babbo, if lunch is an option for you.

                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        Thanks, ttoommyy.

                        I only eat fish and poultry, can I still enjoy Babbo?

                        I've read about the pasta with mint. And I think lamb . . .

                        I haven't been to Lupa in ages. So good. Our server suggested the pan seared trout with pear, radicchio, etc. (I think that was the dish, it's been a long time). Said she thought it was one of the best dishes and most people didn't choose it.

                        1. re: financialdistrictresident

                          "I only eat fish and poultry, can I still enjoy Babbo?"

                          Do you also eat vegetables and dairy? If so, most certainly!
                          http://www.babbonyc.com/menu/lunch/

                          1. re: financialdistrictresident

                            "I only eat fish and poultry, can I still enjoy Babbo?"

                            Absolutely. I haven't checked out the lunch menu yet but at dinner you could have a seafood feast - start with the octopus with limoncello (their best-selling dish, deservedly so) then continue with either the spaghetti & lobster or the black spaghetti & rock shrimp, or one of the vegetarian pastas (I'm partial to the goat cheese tortellini) - finish with one of the seafood entrees. There's a great scallop special right now with a spicy corn vinaigrette. Only one I find skippable is the calamari - I find there's more sauce than squid on the plate, and it's a bit less interesting than some of the other seafood options. There are also some great poultry secondi - partial to the duck and squab, personally, though preparations change seasonally on some items so it varies.

                            The mint pasta does have lamb, yes.

                        2. re: financialdistrictresident

                          To give credit where it's due: Mauro Buffo was no slouch in the kitchen, but the dishes he was executing were Chef Falai's creations. Actually, a few very interesting Chef de Cuisines have been through Falai's kitchen - depending what year you dined there, it could have been Buffo, Matteo Boglione (who later ran the not-quite-as-good-but-he-sure-tried-hard Il Matto, and the solid Church & White) and Fredrik Berselius, who's now the "enfant terrible" behind Aska in Williamsburg. Also Tom Block who I think was overseas for awhile somewhere, not sure what he's up to these days. (If you couldn't tell... I was a regular...)

                          1. re: sgordon

                            Thanks, sgordon.

                            Will have SO check out Aska (if he hasn't already).

                            Miss Falai . . .thinking about their passion fruit souffle and foie gras trilogy. Memorable dish and dessert that are still top of mind.

                            1. re: financialdistrictresident

                              I do too, a great loss to the neighborhood / dining scene in general. (Though I was more partial to the raspberry soufflé with black truffle gelato, personally...)

                            2. re: sgordon

                              I used to like Falai on Clinton St. very creative

                          2. re: barberinibee

                            barberinbee, I understand your sentiment. I left the city for a few years (returning to visit friends and, of course, eat). It's a NYC thing. Following the trend and scene, form over substance, etc.

                            I look forward to eating in Italy, I have not yet been.

                            Where do you eat when you are here several times a year?

                      2. re: sgordon

                        I read the menu at Babbo and a bunch of reviews and it sounds awesome! I would definitely try the octopus! Believe it or not, I recently did try making it at home (sous vide,then grilled) and it was okay but I'm really anxious to try it made by a great chef with skills I don't have! Never tried lamb's tongue and I'm not even sure I could get it here without jumping through hoops!
                        I think I'm really looking to do dinner so we can just head back to the hotel and sleep off all the food and wine.

                        1. Most pasta dishes that Michael White makes you cannot make at home (bone marrow with red wine braised octopus yada yada) and it is delicioussss.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: chompchomp

                            "Most pasta dishes that Michael White makes you cannot make at home (bone marrow with red wine braised octopus yada yada) and it is delicioussss."

                            While this example is not your everyday meal at home, I would venture to guess there are quite a few home cooks here on CH that could make that dish. :)

                            1. re: ttoommyy

                              Marea is definitely extraordinary - plus they offer a 2 course menu for lunch for around $45.

                              Michael White also does great pastas at his more casual, Roman trattoria downtown on Lafayette. Osteria Morini also serves both lunch and dinner.

                              1. re: ttoommyy

                                :)

                                Many of us have some cooking skills.

                                SO makes delicious risotto. I hesitate to order it out because it's never as good as his. And risotto is a fairly simple dish to make.