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Oct 28, 2013 01:36 PM

Authentic italian ambiance & food?

I am overwhelmed with the volume of Italian restaurants!

Help me narrow down some options for a Saturday night somewhat nice dinner for two where we can feel like we might be somewhere in Rome or Florence or Venice for the night. It does not have to be new or hip, just good food with an authentic feel and a good selection of wine. Would like to keep the bill under $150 or so, not including the wine.

We will be staying in midtown; walking distance would be wonderful but willing to taxi wherever. Thanks in advance for any help

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  1. Here are two threads that are active right now; they may provide some help:

    Osteria Morini
    Il Buco

    1. If you would like to feel like you are dining in Verona, then Antica Bottega del Vino, on W. 57th, essentially reproduced the interior of its historic centuries old restaurant in Verona.

      The real reason is to go for the wine, and food tends to be quite pricey, but you might be able to stick to your budget with some judicious ordering.

      I live in Italy and when I come to NYC, if I am around midtown, the closest I've gotten to the feel of eating in Italy is mostly in cheaper places that don't serve Italian food! (But they are run by a single family and stick to a few things they do well.


      However, Mercato reminds of me of bustling fun of eating in Italy (although the kitchen steers toward Pugliese, and may not be upscale enough for you), while Osteria al Doge actually does feel like eating in Venice because its a tad pretentious and the food and wine isn't outstanding and it is more fun to just stick with their pizza (although if you like liver and onions, they don't do a bad job).

      Maialino serves an authentic Roman menu, but the soothing interior feels more like an overblown midwestern family style restaurant than a noisy, cramped, unheated Roman trattoria. But if authenticity in flavor trumps ambience, and you want some place certifiably nice, Maialino's kitchen has the chops to deliver true Roman tastes, and they don't rush your dinner. Nice affordable wines as well.

      There are also some old warhorses of high-end Italian eating in NYC, complete with peach linens and heavyweight silverware, that never get mentioned on this board and I think are out of your budget. However, places like Barbetta or Villa Berulia are more like the places well-heeled Italians go to for special night out, where the ageless clientele never changes.

      I am curious to try Stella 34 the next time I am in NYC's midtown, but I take it if you look at the window, you will definitely know you are in NYC.

      1. PS: I had another thought, which is that another poster mentioned recently in a thread about "hidden gems" the restaurant called The Leopard at des Artistes.

        I've not eaten at The Leopard, but I did eat there when it was Cafe des Artistes, and they have restored the interior which is delightfully frescoed. Were I looking to feel like I was dining in Rome, Florence or Venice, I would want to be surrounded by beauty and art. None of those Italian cities are really known within in Italy as gourmet destinations. The locations are prized because they are beautiful, and there is a great inclination toward beauty everywhere you look.

        If I am remembering correctly, the artworks at des Artistes even have some nudity, and where else but in Italy is that the every day decor?

        Anyway, the other poster seemed pretty jazzed about the food, so you might get everything you want there.

        4 Replies
        1. re: barberinibee

          The original and mothership Il Gattopardo, now moved but still in midtown, is a beacon of superbly made urbane, but firmly rooted in tradition, Neapolitan cooking. No celebrity chefs, no mixologists.

            1. re: barberinibee

              I recently had an OK meal at The Leopard -- not great and pricey and a bit too formal for my taste. By the way, the painted murals of nude nymphs are by artist Howard Chandler Christy and totally enchanting. I think Il Buco on Bond Street, recommended above, would be perfect the the OP. I love the rustic Italian food and the intimate atmosphere.

              1. re: City Kid

                I second Il Buco. I had dinner there last month and it reminded me of a place we ate at in Rome near the Piazza Navona. We enjoyed our meal so much that while we were having desert, we asked the waitress to book us another reservation for this month (and by the way, we got a much better time slot for this month by doing that!). With wine, dinner was $180 for 2.

            2. Having just returned from an 11-night stay in Italy (our sixth time there) I can honestly say I have never been to a restaurant in NYC that comes anywhere near the feel of the everyday trattoria in Italy. The American way of service, portion size and all around ambience is just so different. As for food though, as others have mentioned, Maialino, Lupa, Morandi and Mercato come close, to name a few.

              1. Thanks to all for the helpful info. Maialino has definitely caught my eye as has Lupo.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cookie44

                  Both have excellent food. Lupa is cramped and more of a bustling atmosphere while Maialino is a Danny Myer restaurant that is more spacious with top-notch service.

                  1. re: cookie44

                    I like Maialino but it certainly doesn't have an "authentic Italian ambiance."

                    Lupa would be my choice.