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Restaurant Openings & Buzz

Week of March 27, 2006: Per Lei, My Befana, Dona, and Astor Center.


Per Lei
1347 Second Ave., at 71st St., 212-439-9200

Restaurateur Enrico Proietti has the very specific knack of creating a festive downtown atmosphere in a straitlaced uptown neighborhood. At Baraonda, one of his freewheeling Upper East Side restaurants, dancing on the table is not only allowed—it’s encouraged. Expect the same high spirits at Per Lei, where Fabrizio Musa’s colorful female portraits are in keeping with the restaurant’s name (“for her” in Italian). Proietti recruited two chefs from Milan to cook classic and modern regional fare, from carpaccio and panzanella to potato-crusted branzino with red-onion marmalade.

My Befana
116 W. Houston St., nr. Thompson St., 888-623-3262
In the ever-expanding world of meal-delivery services, it’s tough to stand out. Chef Daniele Baliani, a veteran of Le Cirque, San Domenico, and Boston’s Pignoli, realized that food is his best advertisement. At My Befana, Baliani has combined a production kitchen with a twenty-seat storefront serving his seasonal Mediterranean fare to stay, to go, and, ideally, to tempt customers to sign up online for home or office delivery ( Drawing on Italian, Spanish, and French influences, Baliani offers passersby a daily changing assortment of whatever he’s cooking for his meal-plan clients—from short-rib stew bourguignonne to pork tenderloin au poivre.

208 E. 52nd St., nr. Third Ave., 212-308-0830
As far as Donatella Arpaia was concerned, her first restaurant, Bellini, might have been a success, but it didn’t reflect her personality—not in the trendy, buzzy way that her subsequent ventures (davidburke&donatella and Ama) did. So she hired a designer to give the stodgy midtown spot a bright white face-lift and zebra-print carpet, partnered with Onera chef Michael Psilakis, and reopens this week as Dona, an upscale southern-European restaurant. Each raised on Long Island by immigrant parents, Arpaia and Psilakis have collaborated on what they call first-generation cuisine—a blend of her Italian heritage and his Greek one, expressed in dishes like sea-urchin crudo with burrata, caviar, and fava-bean purée, and spaghetti with eggplant-and-lamb “Bolognese.”

Astor Center
399 Lafayette St., at 4th St., 212-674-7500
In this age of exploding commercial rents and national retail chains willing to pay them, it behooves a local merchant to own his building. At least it’s worked out that way for Astor Wines & Spirits, which has just relocated from its longtime leased home (and eventual Walgreens) to the Theodore De Vinne Press Building, a neo-Romanesque Noho landmark that Edwin Fisher, Astor’s former owner, had the foresight to buy over twenty years ago. Under the direction of Fisher’s son Andrew, the newly christened and handsomely arch-ceilinged Astor Center retains the store’s broad selection and egalitarian vibe, with a few notable improvements: a 57-degree, 70 percent–humidity “cool room” for storing fragile, rare, and organic wines; a tasting bar equipped with spittoons and glassware; and a library of wine-reference books. Education will play an even greater role at the Study, a combination kitchen-classroom Fisher hopes to open this fall.


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