Return visit: looking for fresh Italian
Husband and I spent 3 weeks in NYC December 2012/January 2013. Stayed in Williamsburg so mainly ate out there but ventured into Manhattan for a few meals when the weather was kind. Babbo - unfortunately while we enjoyed the spectacle, the 45 minute wait at the bar (for a table that had been booked weeks earlier) was a wearisome jostle where it was difficult to even get someone's attention for a drink. And then when the food finally arrived, it was IMO, pedestrian. I also didn't like the side by side seating. It honestly felt like a production line. A few days later we went to Osteria Morini and this was a much better experience. Loved the buzzy but orderly atmosphere, the warmth of the setting and the pastas. The mains were a bit forgettable though in a 'red sauce' sort of way?
Anyhow. That is the sum experience of my NYC Italian dining. We will be there again this April, staying in the West Village. I have started doing some research but have yet to come up with something that I want to try. Price is not an issue; atmosphere should be on the casual side of formal; no fussing about with great ingredients; emphasis on really good quality pastas, good wine list.
Any thoughts kindly appreciated.
Thanks for all this helpful input everyone. I will go through it slowly and see what I come up with. Yes, I have been to Italy (twice) - most recently a month in Rome late last year and before that a couple of weeks in Bologna, plus I've visited Naples, Florence and Venice. So I am not after authentic Italian experiences as such but more so 'NYC-Italian' if that makes sense. We have great Italian in Sydney and Melbourne so it's not as if I am gasping for the good stuff. But it is one of my favourite cuisines and the combo of it and the NYC location is - on reflection - probably what I was most after in my recent experiences.
BTW, we hit Babbo just before Christmas so maybe it was just end of year madness?
I made the unfortunate mistake of going to Eataly in Bologna - and walked straight back out again. I thought about it in Rome but then decided there were better things on offer (like proper food markets for a start). I am curious, though, to see the NYC interpretation so I might just end up peeking my head in, at least for a lunch.
There are many threads on italian recs if you search the manhattan board. A few that should be helpful:
Also, I have read this recent thread:
but I can't say it left me with anything other than an idea that I could choose between Scarpetta and Marea....I am definitely more interested in the former but not enough to be dead keen....
There are many, many more threads than that one which discuss what you are looking for.
Based on your experience at Babbo, which to be honest has never even closely approximated anything I personally have experienced there, I offer these suggestions with the caveat that while I have always had great food and good service, but I cannot be held responsible for what you experience. :)
Otto at the bar
Pranzo at Eataly for lunch
Manzo at Eataly at the bar
Pesce at Eataly
Verdure at Eataly
Il Bucco Alimentari
Maybe @kathryn will weigh in here with a few links to threads. She is wonderful at listing other discussions. I'm not so good at it.
Have you eaten in Italy? If you have, it can be pretty frustrating to go looking for Italian food in Italian restaurants in NYC after that. You might have been spoiled for fresh forever. That's not a bad way to end up in life, knowing the difference, but at some point you might want to call a halt to spending lots of money looking for the impossible. And people who haven't been to Italy often recommend restaurants that do what they do very well but aren't what you are looking for at all.
But mayve you've never been to Italy and just like fresh food. Hard enough to get in any restaurant in NYC! But I'll just toss out ideas for you follow up on on places that weren't mentioned in that thread you read. (I just read it too.) You can find fairly recent reviews for these places online I'm sure. I think it is best to go to restaurants that focus on one region of Italy and are seriously trying to be true to that.
For Neapolitan in NYC, check out Il Gattopardo's menu. (Wine list is serviceable and fair prices). People don't seem to understand that Neapolitan food is not pizza, pizza, pizza but actually one of the best all around cuisines of Italy, from antipasti straight through to dessert and outstanding pasta dishes too.
For Emilia-Romagna, I think it is way tough in NYC. Osteria Morini actually might be the best although for me the problem is not red sauce but always one ingredient too many. If you are willing to go non-fancy, you might be able to satisfy a simple fresh pasta craving by going to Giovanni Rana in the Chelsea market. No atmosphere though. Maybe you'd prefer lunch there. Check out the menu. Ditto Mercato, which does rustic Pugliese dishes and while no claims are made you're getting the best of Puglia there, it is definitely a switch from red sauce. Try out an array their antipasti and some unusual pasta rather than secondi. Weirdly, the wine is overpriced by the bottle, so that's another reason to go for lunch and stick with a glass of something simple but don't go pre-matinee hours.
Maialino does excellent Roman food, the basics. with fresh Ingredients and preparation of very high quality. The atmosphere can be fun because it is so relaxed but it is a big operation in a large space. Very intelligent and price friendly wine list. Lupa menu is also pretty much strictly Roman or Lazio but I've never been because I've been told it is screamingly loud.
Piccola Cucina on Spring Street has a really accurate Sicilian menu if you like those flavors -- eggplant, sardines, salted ricotta, citrus and boffo olives, plus this is not a tablecloth restaurant and I've never even looked at the wine list. (They have a Prince St. Location but they don't have a full menu there.)
How about Felidia? Of all the chefs who preside over Italian restaurant empires, Lidia Bastianich to me is truest to Italy in the Italian restaruants associated with her name. You said price is no issue and best to come with a fat wallet especially for the wonderful wine list. Not a lot of bargains.
For an April trip, I might take a flyer on Bottega del Vino because they do asparagus dishes from the Veneto, and lamb dishes and of course they have an outstanding wine list. But I've only been there for wine and coffee (good). Food isn't cheap and might be a risk. Maybe you can find reviews. (Maybe you don't like asparagus.)
I once walked into Eataly in manhattan and turned around and walked right back out the door in probably under 14 seconds. Before you block out time for eating there, swing by and see if you are at all attracted by what's going on inside.
You do know Eataly is part of the Bastianich empire, right? The first couple of times I went to Eataly I could not stand it and ran out in frustration. But once I just let myself breathe and take it all in, I loved it. If the OP does not want to explore the whole market, then Pranzo for lunch Monday through Friday is the best bet. It is right off an entrance and a restaurant unto itself, not in the middle of the hustle and bustle. The preparations are always fresh and since the space doubles as a cooking school at night and on weekends, you can watch the chefs cooking your lunch on monitors, since there is an open kitchen.
yes I do and I hoped by adding the word "restaurants" associated with Lidia Bastianich's name that I was making a clear enough distinction that I was recommending the restaurants not Eataly. I ran out in repulsion, not frustration. Won't be going back to breathe any more of that air. I avoid places with TV watching too.