10. Uptown Extravagance Isn’t Quite Back, But $55 Steaks Are Gradually Reappearing.
My food-savvy mother used to wait for months between calls from her bilious, downtown-centric restaurant-critic son about a promising new dining spot opening in her uptown neighborhood. Lately, however, her phone has been ringing off the hook. The legions of normally discreet, unflappable Italian-food lovers on the Upper East Side are gleefully counting the days until the great pasta god Michael White opens the doors of his latest haute rustico outlet, Ristorante Morini, in the old former Centilore space on 85th and Madison. Until then, the place to see and be seen, among members of the local pasta cognoscenti, is Cesare Casella’s glossy new Madison Avenue market and restaurant, Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto. Unlike the popular West Side branch of Casella’s mini salumeria empire, this elevated little establishment features a poshly decorated dining room with white leather chairs, linen-covered tables, and frescoes featuring lounging Romans. There are all sorts of elaborate uptown preparations on the menu, but the dishes that work best are the ones that retain a trace of Casella’s trademark Tuscan style, like the plump, rosemary-perfumed pork chop and the pressed country chicken (pollo pressato), which my mother likes to complement with a bowl or two of Tuscan fries tossed with rosemary and cloves of fried garlic.
Until the kitchen at his latest exorbitantly priced, extravagantly renovated neo-speakeasy townhouse restaurant, Bill’s Food & Drink, finds its sea legs, Crown, on 81st Street, across from the Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel on Madison Avenue, remains the best place for uptown swells to sample former Waverly Inn chef John DeLucie’s particular take on ye olde Gilded Age delicacies like $55 cuts of steak Delmonico, smothered with spoonfuls of port-laced Bordelaise sauce, and large platters of roast Muscovy duck, cooked for two. Pork belly, house-smoked beef tongue, and a mug of foamy, gently intoxicating Milko-style pilsner is my dinner of choice whenever I drop into the excellent little gastropub Hospoda in the Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street. I’ve also been known to haunt The Penrose, nine blocks north on Second Avenue, where the lethal, jauntily named house cocktails (Jack Rabbit Club, Old Pal Spencer) cost a modest $11 and the menu includes a stout, Irish-style “spiced beef” brisket sandwich and the best custom-blend LaFrieda burger in this otherwise burger-challenged part of town. If you’re prepared to plunk down a small king’s ransom for expertly cooked pastas and an almost perfect rendition of vitello alla Milanese, then the great restaurateur Sirio Maccioni’s posh new brasserie Sirio Ristorante, at the Pierre, is the place for you, and if you’re in search of an old-school, heart-stopping steak dinner while wandering the canyons of midtown, I suggest you enter the scrum at Steve Hanson’s raucous new beefeater outlet Strip House Midtown and call (loudly) for the generously sized, beautifully charred Porterhouse for two, along with several servings of the signature house potatoes, which are shaped in little domes and crisped in flagons of goose fat.