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We’re hungry for comfort on the Upper East Side.

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The narrow storefront that was Butterfield 81 has always catered to the neighborhood, and that’s Francesco Antonucci’s mind-set here in a room that is stripped-down and simple. He’s kind to the budget too, with entrées starting at $17. Surprisingly, the Über-Venetian chef, co-founder of Remi, has decided to blur his heritage with an American melting-pot menu at Antonucci. Sadly, there are scant few pastas on the menu—one of them a side of truffled macaroni and cheese. No, he hasn’t abandoned savory small plates of cicchetti. Meatballs, sweet-and-sour sardines, crab cakes, arancini, and fried olives are among the classic Venetian bar snacks he offers in a tasting for two. But we’re fighting over the marvelous soppressata on the salumi gathering of lardo, cured duck, coppa, and prosciutto. Roasted winter vegetables come with a properly salty bagna cauda drizzled on top. He tosses semolina croutons into a chunky beet-and-Gorgonzola salad. Mashed chicken livers rolled in polenta with sweet onions stuck to the plate is a big mistake in my book. The best of the entrées is short ribs with celeriac purée. Seared salmon, perfectly cooked and mounted on savory bacon-braised cabbage, is utterly tasteless. But as you might hope from a Venetian, the mushroom risotto is perfect. And the odd juxtaposition of coffee granita piled atop sensational chocolate pudding turns out to be brilliant.

  1. 170 E. 81st St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-570-5100


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