If you know me, you know that Italian is rarely my go-to cuisine. I’m sorry but I’m camp French. I don’t understand tomato sauce’s appeal. Heresy for a foodie… or for someone who works for an Italian food celebrity?Let’s caveat that I love pizza as much as the next New Yorker, but frankly I have never been one to crave pasta. Give me carbs in the form of baked goods.
I’ll admit that in America I’m within the minority and Italian food is ubiquitous. It’s so effortlessly engrained in the culinary scene that one could even say that certain staples are extensions of American comfort food. I must say that as I grow up, the allure of the deft use of fresh basil or the briny quality of a good seafood dish grows on me, but I won’t be picking an Italian restaurant if I’m the one to decide where to go for dinner.
That being said, Faye’s birthday brought me to Michelin star-rated Lincoln Ristorante in the heart of Lincoln Center. First of all can we talk about the space? It is simply stunning – basically an architectural feat. Floor to ceiling glass walls, simultaneously looking out onto 65th street and a stunning water pool behind LC’s main façade. In the summer you can sit outside and enjoy the best of my neighborhood. The aesthetic is clearly modern but the service and overall feel is neither stuffy nor rushed. Unlike most of the Michelin star restaurants I’ve been to, LR is rather sprawling which lends to both a spacious yet intimate ambiance.
Cleary as the name suggests, Italian is on the menu. I was dually impressed. LR is an example of what I like to call New-Age American Italian. A mouthful yes. The food is not eggplant parm or spaghetti with meatballs but nuanced fare blending creative ideas with fresh, ingredients, evocative of Italy. LR specializes in offering selections from Puglia, a region in the south of Italy. For being a Michelin Star Restaurant, the menu is not outrageously priced. You can get 3 courses for $66 or 4 for $75 – Not bad for NYC.
As we were not feeling overly gluttonous we opted to go for a 3-course prix fixe. My first course was the Soppressata di Polpo (Octopus, Beef Tendon, Cucumber, Tomatoes, Cipollini-Pilacca Conserva, and Lemon Basil). The presentation was absolutely stunning and I’m still slightly stumped on how they sliced the octopus so deftly. The dish was an epitome of the clean, fresh, Italian flavors at their best. No elaborately concocted sauce (which is why I’m camp French) but frankly that’s OK in this instance. A bite of octopus with the fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil was the perfect starter.
For my main I had the Coniglio in Porchetta (Roasted Loin and Confit Leg of Rabbit, Spaetzle, Chanterelles, Corn and Savory Jus). Now here I must say is where the New-Age American Italian shines through. I’m not fully versed in Italian cooking but I can’t remember most Italian restaurants serving Rabbit with Chanterelles in a beautiful composed rabbit jus. But LR did just that. The technique and plating evoke French panache with Italian sensibility.
Although plated beautifully, I must say I was not impressed with my Tartufo (Cherry, Hazelnut and Chocolate Gelatos, Italian Meringue, Stregacustard, and Macerated Cherries), nor any of the dessert selections as they were mainly cold selections. But possibly that’s a product of summer. As always with the best restos in NYC nom noms were provided after dinner that finished a rather beautiful evening.
OK so I’ll relent. Some of NYC’s hottest NYC Italian restaurants surely live up to the hype (especially those with Michelin star accolades). And I will say that working for Donatella is broadening my Italian culinary horizons as I sift through her many expertly crafted, recipes. But let’s make it clear I’m not going to be craving Penne à la vodka anytime soon, just pass the Duck Confit and we’re good.
Lincoln Ristorante – 142 West 65th Street – 212 359 6500
See more reviews at NYC Restaurants.