Cuisine: Continental , Italian
Menu: View the Menu
Cinque Terre has two strikes against it in attempting to be a dinnertime destination for New Yorkers. First, it’s a hotel restaurant -- connected to Jolly Hotel Madison Towers – a category that locals immediately disregard, despite the success of such “hotel restaurants” as Daniel and Park Avenue Café. Plus, there’s no real reason to be on East 38th Street in the evening, unless you’re planning to catch a train to Grand Central.Review By: Brian Scott Lipton
But all of this wouldn’t matter if the food at Cinque Terre was outstanding. However, recently installed chef Joseph Catalano’s menu is neither the third strike nor a home run. It’s more like an infield single. It gets the job done, but without any real panache. And at these rather hefty prices – three courses before tax, tip or any kind of beverage can top $50 per person – you really might expect something a bit better.
The same can be said of the surroundings, which are bland though reasonably comfortable. On the plus side, the restaurant is large enough to accommodate big groups, but also intimate enough – especially with its back room far from street view – so one can have a romantic dinner here. (Bring your mistress if you like). And the service is excellent.
Having never seen tomaxelle on a menu, I had to try it, especially as it includes three of my favorite ingredients; veal, sweetbreads, and pignoli. (I chose to overlook the fact that the fourth ingredient is golden raisins, which I tend not to like.) What arrived was essentially a sweetbread sausage with the grilled veal as the casing; it was tasty and substantial, but probably should have been served a bit warmer for maximum effect.
Our waiter assured us that pasta courses were small enough to order as an appetizer, especially since half-orders were not available. The scallop risotto turned out to be large enough for a light main course or splittable as an appetizer. The rice was nicely creamy, with a lemony flavor, and it was studded with generous chunks of the delectable sea creature. But the gratineed scallops in their shell on the side proved to be unpleasant tasting.
Both of our mains were more than satisfactory: two slabs of sesame-crusted tuna, served rare as requested, set atop sautéed spinach in a balsamic reduction, and a pair of delicious lamb chops in a port wine reduction, accompanied by roasted potatoes and tomatoes.
Dessert turned out to be the highlight of the meal for my dining companion, who raved about the Campari sorbet that floated atop a bowl of refreshing melon soup. (Note that the melon turned out to be cantaloupe, not honeydew). I opted for the cleverly-named “nip and nibble,” which paired a warm pignoli cake with a small glass of chilled limoncello. Even if it wasn’t perfectly executed – the cake was a tad dry – Catalano needs more of this inventive cuisine if Cinque Terre is to stay in the game.
Neighborhood: East 30s
Reservations: Click for reservations
Entree Price: $25-30
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