Cute, pink and tucked into 91st Street close to Central Park, Gina Lafornarina is a sweet spot for inventive pizzas, very fresh salads and all manner of classic Italian dishes serving breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner. Weekday afternoons are prime time for girls from the flock of private schools in the area to drop in for coffee and day time sees lots of visitors taking a break from exhibitions at the newly reopened Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, Jewish Museum, Guggenheim or National Academy.
My pizza with fresh figs, prosciutto and "crema di Parmigiano" was light and scrumptious as was my companions pie with sweet Italian sausage and (cooked) red onion. The take away bags we got to tote our leftovers home was as pinkly stylish as the restaurant which boasts walls lined with bottles of wine and tables both up and downstairs to maximize a smallish space. Thin, crisp focaccia is one of the most popular menu items, served on its own or with various Italian cheeses and cured meats.
Panini including a version with speck and Tallegio cheese and another of grilled eggplant, zucchini, red pepper and Brie come with a crisp green salad; for those who want a very light lunch, there is a shrimp salad with hearts of palm in a citrusy dressing or a salad Nicoise, while beef eaters can chow down on the skirt steak. Crespelle, aka a crepe filled with spinach and ricotta topped with fresh tomato sauce is another winner as are other pastas. Don't overlook the desserts--this area is girl city so top class sweets are a critical item. Vanilla gelato topped with sour cherry marinated in sherry, ice creams, chocolate soufflé cake and a light Italian cheese cake all win raves. Every manner of popular beverage is here: hot or iced teas, lattes, espresso, macchiatos and cappuccinos, available as singles or doubles. Wines, largely French and Italian, come by glass or bottle; champagne and Prosecco are on offer --given the proximity of so many schools, I bet they card carefully. The restaurant, founded and owned by Paola Pedrignani, who co-owns Amarath Restaurant further downtown, takes its name from a Raphael painting, La Fornarina, which means the baker's daughter. It would make a great spot for a bridal shower lunch or other girly party, especially as there are ample vegetarian, low-cal and organic options. Takeout and delivery is available.
The vibe is a mashup of Sex and the City with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie-- simultaneously very Italian and very chic New York. Service is as sweet as the restaurant which opens at 8 AM for coffee and pastries, serves lunch starting at 11 and stays open until 10 PM. There are sister locations--same concept and menus- on Lexington near 72nd; Second and 81st and Amsterdam and 73rd.