Given how much Italian food Americans eat, and the relatively low price tag even the good ones carry, it's odd to find people willing to spend hundreds of dollars on high-end Italian restaurants. And in some cases, they are worth the money. It's a short list.
Mario Batali's flagship hasn't lost its fastball; its vivid, ballsy take on Italian food continues to constantly change and impress.
A fish- and vegetable-heavy Italian classic.. Apulia is on the heel of Italy's boot; it’s a fairly poor and arid region, and its food tends to reflect that. So as the area's primary ambassador to New York you might think that would make I Trulli a hard sell, especially given the lack of garlic and tomatoes in Puglian food. Instead, the restaurant more than compensates with bitter greens (arugula, dandelion, broccoli rabe), which give punch and earthiness to a wide-range of handmade pastas. The room is simple and unpretentious, with warm yellow walls and a glassed-in back area. It's not especially cheap, but in its own quiet way this is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
There are basically three great seafood restaurants in New York: Marea, Le Bernardin, and Esca, and the latter is by far the most comfortable and casual of the three -- not to mention the cheapest. Chef David Pasternack's relationship with local fishermen is legendary, and he has mastered the art of getting out of the way. There is no simpler, or better, seafood anywhere.
Ignore the pissy reviews here, which generally reflect, at least in my opinion, an unwillingness to grasp that small, sought-after Manhattan restaurants sometimes have waits or service lapses, which are more than made up by the things that cause them -- in this case some of the city's most amazing pastas, which range from rich and filling to ethereally light, and many of which are not seen on any other menu.
The cool thing about Scarpetta is that it seems hipper than it is. I mean by that that there are a lot of meatpacking types there, and it's very big and buzz-y, but the food is really very refined and elevated. It's closer in spirit to the old San Domenico than to the other club-like restaurants in that area.
Known, rightly, as the city's most admired Italian restaurant, the secret of Marea is that Michael White's pastas, and not the restaurant's fish entrees. How could they not be anti-climactic after the "Sultan of Spaghetti's" signature dishes?
Former Per Se chef Jonathan Benno brings his precision and brilliance to the famously informal food of Italy. It should be a mismatch, but both sides benefit from this odd marriage, and Benno's commitment to changing the menu from region to region adds another level of interest. A truly special restaurant.
Michael White's venture in haute provencal cuisine -- some Italian, some French -- is a culinary triumph, albeit in a somewhat sterile city. The room is big and quiet though, and makes a great spot for an elegant, sunlit breakfast.
This meat-centric restaurant is far and away the best of the concepts created by Mario Batali for Eataly. The food is intense, robust, and original. But you are still eating in a supermarket.