Cititour: The New York Guide to Events, Restaurants, Music, and Nightlife




Cuisine: Italian

Cititour Review: A lot of happiness in life has to do with expectations. Think about it. If you’re lucky enough to have your expectations met or, hey, even exceeded, you’re golden, but if they fall short of reality, that can be a recipe for painful disappointment. Perhaps as a defense mechanism, I try to keep my expectations on the low side rather than be too hopeful, which explains why I went into this move to Brooklyn with a pretty realistic attitude. I knew we were taking two separate apartments (and lives for that matter) and merging them into one, and I figured the packing and unpacking and moving and all would be a challenge (read: hell). But now that I’m through it, you know what, it really wasn’t all that bad.

The worst of it was a rental truck from U-Haul that pretty much was ready to self-destruct five blocks from the U-Haul site and a difficult manager who kept us there for an hour while we tried to get a new truck. But three days later, I’m sitting in my sunny kitchen in Brooklyn and I can actually see the floor and we recently excavated our couch from under a mountain of boxes! All in all, we’re making excellent progress on the unpacking and everything’s actually been pretty smoothly between Craig and me, too. No major brawls. Apparently Craig’s friend Jim gave him this sage piece of advice before moving: “No jury will ever convict a man for murdering his fiancé on moving day.” Good to know his expectations were managed as well.

Likewise, I also had pretty managed (read: low) expectations about dining at Olana, a new restaurant in the lower-Madison Avenue neighborhood of A Voce and Country. The restaurant is named for the home of American artist Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), a National Landmark located in the Hudson Valley. As an ode to Church’s work, the restaurant also serves as an art gallery showcasing Church’s bucolic paintings of the Hudson River landscape. Which all sounded nice and all, but I had never heard of the chef, Al Di Meglio, who apparently most recently was the chef at Osteria Del Circo. His menu channels some of that Italian cooking—chestnut crespelle with ricotta, mushrooms, pine nuts and sage brown butter sauce ($15/$23), risotto with sea urchin, king crab, black truffle and truffle cream ($17/$23)—but also offers up more American cookery with entrees for two like a 38-oz. dry-aged Cote de Boeuf with crispy onions, semolina and Parmesan gnocchi, Brussels sprouts ($108), and salt-crusted red snapper with roasted almond brown rice, grilled abalone mushrooms and ginger braised rhubarb ($67). This sounded good, but still, I wasn’t chomping at the bit. I also hadn’t heard much about the front of house team either, brothers William and Patrick Resk. Patrick is a sommelier who was Executive VP of Euro RSCG Worldwide while Bill is a consummate front of house guy who most notably worked at Hudson River Club with Waldy Malouf back in the day. Olana is the brothers’ first venture.

So I was prepared for a pretty average experience when I sat down to dinner with my friend Steven. He’d just returned from a self-proclaimed Gay Vacay in Las Vegas. This included tickets to see both Bette Midler and Barry Manilow, plus a trip to the Liberace museum. Visits to the souvenir shops included several key purchases: “The Showgirl Must Go On” Bette Midler t-shirt, and a Barry Manilow rhinestone tiara, which he placed on Steve Hanson’s head when he ran into him in the hotel lobby with Molly Sims. Hilarious.

As he told me about his Gay Vacay, we had a few martinis and snacked on fat little rolls stuffed with sweet strings of caramelized onions or plump black olives (I loved both), courtesy of Iacapo Falai. Delicious. Hmm, well, they know people who can cook, so there’s that. I was encouraged. As I feasted on my rolls I took in the scene. The room was also nice enough. Accented with cherry red velvet chairs, super high ceilings, and oversized painted murals of the Hudson River Valley, it has a modern brasserie feel. The décor is stylish but in a benign rather vanilla fashion; it’s the sort of place you could go on a date but then again, take a client, or relatives visiting from out of town. At this point, things could still go either way. And then, we had dinner.

We started with sea bass tartare ($17), a fine dice fashioned into a rectangle and then poured over with a mix of champagne and fresh grapefruit juice, and garnished with mint. How bright and beautiful. It was a refreshing start to the meal that was countered by a more earthy duck egg, perfectly poached and balanced on top of a mix of roasted mushrooms and blanched asparagus. The only thing missing from the dish would have been a crusty piece of bread to mop up the creamy yolk and the melted Parmesan cheese that garnished the plate. I used the asparagus but they’re not as absorbent as carbs. As a middle course, we went for the veal and ricotta cappellacci ($16/$25) which were almost Italian kreplach (meat-filled dumplings): fluffy veal and ricotta meatballs are studded with pistachios and Grana Padano cheese and wrapped up inside a pasta wrapper and simmered in a pulpy and super sweet roasted tomato sauce. At this point, my doubts were gone. There’s a solid team here doing good food. Who’s the chef again?

I especially liked an entrée that gave me a newfound respect for flounder. I mean when was the last time you saw flounder on a menu that wasn’t some place like Red Lobster? Here, Di Meglio takes a few meaty fillets and poaches them in blood orange juice and Armagnac, and sets the fish on top of olive oil crushed potatoes and a bed of vibrant Swiss chard ($27). It’s wildly unique dish that’s got these sweet warm sunny flavors that are really unexpected, especially when it comes to flounder, but it works quite well.

If you’re a fan of rabbit and foie gras, you’ll love the dish that he makes from roasted rabbit stuffed with almonds, apricots and foie gras, served over a salad of arugula and cannellini beans ($29). It’s very rich, and probably best shared, but I liked the interplay of the fruit and nuts with the rabbit and foie gras. If rabbit is something you don’t do, more simple meat and potato types can stick to the roasted and braised organic chicken with sweet potato puree, escarole and cipollini onions ($25) or Di Meglio’s riff on a steak—a Local Veal NY Strip with English peas, baby carrots, chanterelles, potato gnocchi, and onion confit ($34).

There’s plenty at Olana to enjoy, from a seat at the bar to an easy dinner in one of their oversized banquettes that allow for a feeling of spaciousness, rather than being cramped that’s more common these days of precious little square footage. Di Meglio is no Andrew Carmellini, but then again, few people are. He’s doing good food in a nice setting with a solid front of the house team lead by Bill and Patrick, along with Le Cirque ex-pat Nicola Libonati who learned a thing or two about being charming from the master of the art, Sirio. So yes, I was pleasantly surprised at my dinner at Olana. Perhaps it was my expectations, or maybe I’m just too pessimistic.

And things here at the apartment are moving along nicely. Unfortunately I seemed to have wrenched my back, so I am in a nice degree of agony at the moment, but we’ve now unpacked all our clothes and divvied up the closet space in the bedroom and hallway. Unfortunately, Craig didn’t fare too well in that department. He got a few meager inches of space in the bedroom closet and barely enough room for his Red Sox outerwear in the hall closet. “I’m sorry you don’t have much closet space, honey,” I said, apologizing in the way you apologize for a situation you’re clearly not going to do anything to change. He sort of laughed. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’m surprised I got that much. I wasn’t expecting any.”
Review By: Andrea Strong

Neighborhood: Flatiron District

72 Madison Ave (28th St)
New York, NY
(212) 725-4900