Be Italian!

Be Italian!

Photo: Basso 56/

Type of Place: Restaurants

Be Italian!
By Brian Scott Lipton

January is a tricky month for food lovers, as the battle to keep that New Year’s resolution to lose weight or eat healthier is constantly weakened by the desire for comforting, hearty dishes to ward off winter’s chill. In my case (and maybe yours), the result is a nearly constant craving for Italian food. So here’s a quintet of eateries to satisfy those cold-weather cravings.

Basso 56
234 West 56th Street. 212-265-2610
The Lower East Side’s loss has turned out to be Midtown’s gain. Three months ago, chef Paolo Catini and his wife Ellen sold their beloved downtown restaurant, Basso Est, and moved operations to this stylish spot, just on the edge of the theater district. Paolo is constantly in the kitchen, often whipping up market-fresh specials, and diners are urged to take advantage of his often-delicious brainstorms. But you’ll do just fine if you stick to the regular menu as well. The grilled calamari is remarkably tender and flavorful. Pasta fans go wild for the homemade papardelle coated in a light but satisfying lamb ragu or the fabulous fagottino alla polpa di aragosta, a homemade crepe filled with a confit of fresh lobster, then baked in the oven and toped with a tomato-chive veloute. Paolo knows how to handle red meat as well, as proven by his excellent filet mignon dish. And leave room for his desserts – the tiramisu is so popular, the kitchen has been known to run out of it by mid-evening.

La Cantina Toscana
1109 First Avenue. 212-754-5454
This narrow easy-to-overlook East Side restaurant, which specializes in Tuscan and Florentine cuisine, is further proof that good things come in small packages. Both the fare and the extensive wine list prove to be among the most sophisticated in the City. Chef Pierlugi Sacchetti has a particular flair for using exotic ingredients, from wild boar sausage to plate of quickly sautéed baby eels. And lovers of organ meats will be in hog heaven here, thanks to Sacchetti’s fondness for tripe and other delicacies, and the restaurant offers a separate wild game menu. Still, even non-adventurous diners will want to make a visit and sample the restaurant’s superb pastas, like delicious tagliolini with shrimp and asparagus in a light lemon sauce.

361 West 46th Street. 212-315-0980
Having had a successful 20-year-run, this Restaurant Row eatery recently underwent a full-scale renovation, and the result is one of the theater district’s most attractive dining spaces, complete with four dining rooms spread out over two floors and a lovely skylight patio. Most everyone who visits wisely starts with the house’s signature dish, lightly fried Jerusalem artichokes; and in fact, Lattanzi is an ideal place to take your favorite vegetarian, as I did recently. It’s likely he or she will also rave about the enormous plate of grilled vegetables and the freshness of the house’s salads. Carnivores can get their kicks from hearty pastas such as tortelloni filled with chicken and veal, fettucini Bolognese, and a large variety of chicken, veal and lamb entrees.

680 Amsterdam Avenue. 212-799-3987
This highly appealing Upper West Side eatery is everything a neighborhood restaurant should be, offering superior food, excellent, personalized service, and modest prices.
Appetizer portions are sufficiently large for sharing – in fact, a table of four could fill up on the delicious platter of delicately fried mixed mushrooms. But you won’t want to overlook the house’s inventive salads, like a superb combination of beets, goat cheese, and lettuces. If pasta’s your thing, consider the excellent spaghetti and meatballs or well-made gnocchi; if not, Lisca’s veal Milanese – topped with a generous arugula and tomato salad – is exemplary. Leave room for desserts such as a first-rate ricotta cheesecake or authentic cannoli.

97 MacDougal Street. 212-228-9194
Talk about your old-timers: this Greenwich Village favorite is poised to celebrate its 90th birthday next year. What keeps the fans coming back year after year is classic cuisine, lovingly prepared – from fine buttery baked clams to greaseless calamari and chicken parmigiana. In recent months, the menu has got a bit more inventive, and the décor slightly spruced up, so if you haven’t been back, take a trip downtown and try it again.

Be Italian!
NYC citywide, NY