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Haute Italiano

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Jackets are required for gentlemen dining at Alto, and once seated, diners are strafed relentlessly by waiters proffering bottles of spa water (Hildon) and baskets of artisanal bread. The wine list is a learned if mildly overpriced document, and there are a variety of good cheeses to choose from, all garnished with bits of crunchy speck or fig sausage or light gelées made from amarone liqueur. Among the desserts, the mini Sacher torte had the odd, grainy consistency of a Power Bar, but everything else was pretty good, particularly the rhubarb strudel, which is stacked in a pool of lightly creamy vanilla custard. I confess I didn’t sample any of the six designer teas, although the selection of amarones and grappas is impressive. So is the crowd, which is filled with the usual opening-night characters dressed in their subdued uptown finery. As dishes issue from the kitchen, the diners whisper among themselves and peer discerningly at their plates. And when Conant tours the room, as debut chefs are prone to do, you can practically hear the murmurings of “bravo,” the faint patter of polite applause.

Address:520 Madison Ave., nr. 53rd St. (entrance on 53rd); 212-308-1099
Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday, noon to 2:30 P.M. Dinner: Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10:30 P.M., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 P.M.
Prices: Appetizers, $12 to $18; entrées, $24 to $33.
Ideal Meal: Polenta integrale or foie gras carpaccio, trenette with mussels and spot prawns, squab, rhubarb strudel.
Note: Petit fours are another de rigueur fancy restaurant experience. Here they’re exquisite, particularly the little chocolate drops filled with toffee and a touch of salt. Casual chic.


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