Last Thursday, I’ve arranged lunch with Mary to Alto for Restaurant Week. The two reasons why I want to go to Alto are: 1.) I want to see Mary. It’s been too long since we’ve eaten out. 2.) Curious about their food yet not willing to fork my a large chunk of my money on a non-RW time.
As we trudged our way over from the Upper East Side to Midtown and walked right through their small outdoor dining space into a similarly narrow lounge area where the maître d’ was located. After checking in, we’ve been escorted down to the dining room – narrow, lined with plushly banquettes and neutral-colored walled, and for the other half of the room, wine bottles are filled from floor to ceiling. Patrons here are mostly business lunchers.
The bread served here are pretty good. We have a choice of foccacia, olive roll, and a regular white roll. I chose the olive roll and Mary gotten herself foccacia. The bread was served warm, the texture was good and the flavors were balanced, though my olive roll was a bit more saltier than the one I had in Gramercy Tavern last week. The olive oil provided was fruity and viscous, nice to dip with the bread.
What I probably forgotten (or just know now) that Mary’s quite picky with her food. She doesn’t like seafood, including fish, asparagus, and she used to dislike eggplant, and a bunch of other things. It surprised me a bit since I think a insalata mista con verdura croccante, in other words, a mixed green salad with crisp vegetables (such as asparagus, found within the pile). She liked it but loved the crostini more. I took a bit, curious to know what’s smoothed on top of that small piece of toasted bread, it was creamy, mild goat cheese that has a peppery kick at the end.
For myself, the calamari con fave e insalata panzanella (calamari with fava and panzanella salad) was very good. Tender squid set upon a small pool of mint-fava purée with dabbles of tiny heirloom grape tomatoes and crunchy croutons on top. Complex and texturally great but the drawback was the small portion.
As for the mains, Mary and I had the garganelli; imolese pasta quills, braised veal ragu, pecorino cheese. It wasn’t as hearty as it sounds on paper. It’s balanced yet complex. Not oversauced and the pasta was cooked properly. The portion size is just right.
Mary opted for the creme fraiche panna cotta, fresh grapefruit, vanilla streusel, with grapefruit sorbet. I tried some of her dessert and found it pretty damn awesome. Rich, smooth and creamy, and not gelatinous like Jello. The custard is intensely vanilla flavored and the grapefruit sorbet compliments this flavor so well. When Mary tried it, she had a foodgasm. She was glowing…
My gianduja torta composed of Valhrona chocolate cake, gianduja crema, candied hazelnuts, and vanilla gelato, was good. Not as remarkable as the panna cotta. The cake was rich and chocolate-y but I’m missing out on the hazelnut element.
Would I go to Alto on a non-RW day, probably not. Even though they do have a prix fixe for lunch, I can get a better deal and meal at Jean Georges for lunch (as I’ve had in the past). If anything at all, the pastas are dependably good.
520 Madison Avenue (on W 53rd Street)
New York, NY 10022 (map)