by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
May 27, 2008
BAR MILANO [CLOSED]
323 3rd Ave
@ 24th St
New York, NY 10010
There are many things to love about Bar Milano, the latest and most ambitious restaurant from the Denton brothers (Jason and Joe of ’ino and ’inoteca) and their partner chefs from ’inoteca and Lupa. For starters, it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Secondly, the atmosphere is stupendous; relaxed but exquisite, sultry but bright, it’s the perfect mix. The service is professional, and the food is good. Bar Milano is more upscale than Denton’s other venture (and a personal favorite of mine), Lupa, whose food and atmosphere seem almost homestlyle in comparison. And the prices reflect as much.
To avoid the dinner crowds, I’m a fan of lunch at Bar Milano; the menu is the same while I can easily find a seat in the austere dining room or at the 26-seat bar with banquettes and an open view of the corner of 24th Street and 3rd Avenue. Sitting at the bar, listening to the jazz in the background and chatting with the bartender seem like the quintessential New York experience. With a glass of wine in hand and my meal served, I am in a state of bliss.
On my first visit, I tried the insalata di bagna cauda (early spring vegetables tossed in a garlic and anchovy dressing), trota in carpione (pickled trout, beets and horseradish), risotto di aragosta (carnaroli rice with lobster and ramps), and trota con montecato (trout, potatoes and chard). All dishes are arranged elegantly and the flavors subtle. The early spring vegetables, or what I call baby vegetables, were delicate, and though I expected the garlic and anchovy dressing to be heavy in flavor, it was so subtle that I almost forgot it contained these powerhouse ingredients. The tangy flavor of the pickled trout was balanced by the horseradish, and then reiterated by the beets. And the risotto, prepared with longer grain carnaroli rice (rather than aborio grains), was perfectly creamy yet still al dente. The small lobster pieces were tasty and rich without being heavy. But the highlight of this meal was the trout entrée; pan-seared trout paired with smoked trout mashed potatoes and a side of chard dressed with Meyer lemon was just delicious.
All that said, it was only on my second visit that I really fell in love with Bar Milano. I had been dying to try their pastas, so I ordered the homemade pinci with razor clams and cuttlefish and a side of Italian greens. The hand-rolled pinci is rounder and thicker than spaghetti. The consistency matches well with the chewy pieces of cuttlefish and the slices of razor clams (that almost disappear into this dish). Whole, peeled cherry tomatoes add zest and freshness. The flavors bursting in my mouth, I was blown away at first bite!
The only downside was that my solitary lunch of pasta, side of greens and a lovely glass of the NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut totaled $57 with tax and tip. Though lunch was relaxing, the bill was not. Since opening, Bar Milano has received much criticism for its pricing, but that’s unlikely to change. “If you build it, they will come.”