Sunday, August 02, 2009

Alto Restaurant Review

Alto is the Northern Italian arm of chef Michael White's three-restaurant empire (Convivio in Tudor City and Marea on Central Park South completing the set).

Situated in East Midtown, set back from the street, Alto quietly offers a place to sample Italian food that isn't instantly recognizable as Italian food. It is set in a beautiful, airy multilevel space colored in soothing hues of green. The service here was a lesson to any restaurant trying to do RW lunch - incredibly efficient without making diners feel rushed.

The RW menu was limited to three choices for appetizers and mains, and two for dessert, but it was a good introduction to what Alto has to offer. Bread is provided for each individual diner from a server with a basket of olive or sourdough. The portion sizes at Alto were good enough to make me feel like I got my money's worth and I left feeling sated, but not too heavy.

Spring market salad with crispy vegetables, fresh herbs, and white balsamic.
It came with crostini topped with a spreadable cheese that my dining companion deemed incredible. Ruling out that it might be goat cheese, she suggested it could have been pecorino.

Grilled calamari with fava mint puree, heirloom tomato and chanterelle panzanella.
The calamari was really thin and tender and flavorful, excellently done. The crispy crouton-like bits were salty and savory in the way that makes you want to eat more.

Olive oil poached striped bass with tomatoes, ceci beans, sicilian capers and olives
The meaty filet was mild and allowed the flavors of the ingredients in the red sauce to come through. Chickpeas are not something I'd often associate with fish, but they were tasty in this dish.

Garganelli with braised veal ragu and pecorino cheese
This was a buttery and rich dish of perfectly cooked pasta.

These were fairly standard offerings, but good nonetheless.

Creme fraiche Panna Cotta with fresh grapefruit, vanilla streusel and grapefruit sorbet
Panna cotta seems to be a common summer RW dessert, which makes sense because it lends itself well to being paired with fresh fruits and served chilled it works well on hot days. To me, streusel is a great addition to any dessert, but even better when it provides a texture contrast to something like a soft panna cotta.

Valhrona chocolate cake with gianduja crema, candied hazelnuts, vanilla gelato
The hazelnuts were built into this delicate multilayered cake, giving each bite a light crunch. The gelato had a deep vanilla flavor, which I loved and think helps to make the gelato seem smoother and creamier.

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