Lincoln Center, New York, NY
Review by SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Diana, Diasala, Kimba, Anndi, Diana, Wraith6
There are restaurants that are so good that you're afraid they are too good to be true ... maybe it was the situation that made it so wonderful? Like that luau you attended during your honeymoon when everything was awesome, but then you go back and it's somehow not the same, and the food needs salt. And you wonder, is it you? Or did they really change so much?
Café Fiorello was like that, being located across the street from Lincoln Center, where the Metropolitan Opera and Ballet are housed. People go there before or after the performance and bask or gripe. Maybe that's what made the food seem so wonderful? But anyway, people had reported that the experience of dining there had faded badly and the place became one where it was certainly not a good value. It was dismal in terms of food and service, too.
It is pricey, maybe that's what people didn't like? But the food was delicious. You have to remember that though it's Italian, it's not a "peasant" place. The food is served nicely, there are good waiters, it's in a great neighborhood, the room is laid out warmly ... and some of the food is kind of French rather than Italian. But if it's truly delicious, that shouldn't matter, right?
There is the antipasti bar, which looks like it should be a buffet, but it isn't. Well, it is, but though you can pick and choose, it's not a "southern style" self-service type of buffet. You have to tell the nice men behind the bar and glass partition what you want, and they plate it up and bring it to you at your table. It's certainly more hygienic this way, that's for sure. There are various vegetables, both hot and cold, and cold seafood dishes. They'll let you taste if you ask, so it reminds you a bit of the ice cream parlor when you were a kid, but this will likely be better for you.
The menu allows you to pick a certain number of vegetables and/or seafood dishes, depending how many different things you'd like to eat. The 7-choices plate costs about $25, which isn't bad when you consider the vegetarians in your party won't freak out about the lack of truly vegetarian options on the menu.
Items on offer at the antipasti buffet include simple things ranging from roasted asparagus in olive oil, or tomato and mozzerella, or more complicated things like eggplant rollatini, to hot gratins. On the seafood side, there are calamari, sardines, shrimp, salmon, clams. The seafood platters are kept on a bed of packed crushed ice, whereas the vegetables are kept over sternoflames or at room temperature.
The menu does have many wonderful, classic Italian offerings. We imbibed in gnocchi, butternut squash soup with pancetta, carpaccio, tuna niçoise (okay, that's rather French, but they Italianize it here), fried artichokes, marinated olives, and they were really, really excellent. We had problems choosing our fare, actually, since so much looked so good. We were delighted that all of it had nothing bad about any of it!
A nice touch was that when we ordered drinks, they brought pitchers to minimize the run for refills and that uncomfortable question about whether refills are included in the cost of the drinks. We assumed so. And the pitchers were awfully cute, too. The bread basket included a nut bread, a cheese scone, and puff pastry palmiers, served with a crème fraiche, an apricot jam, and a raspberry jam. Rather unusual, and it made us very happy (even though we didn't try any of the jams or the crème fraiche).
More happiness was offered in the way of desserts: we had the chocolate mousse (more French stuff), a lemoncello tarte, tiramisu, and sorbet. The mousse was offered in a pair of buckets, paired with whipped cream. How odd, but it was very dramatic the server came by with the side-by-side silver buckets and he dolloped mousse onto your dessert plate. Dramatic and kind of weird.
The sorbet came in a very funky blue glass that was kind of reminiscent of big margaritas, and the blood orange sorbet was amazing! It made the raspberry and passionfruit sorbets seem rather ordinary, though in fact they were both really good, too. The tiramisu was likewise good, but it was the least of the desserts we'd ordered so it just didn't stand out.
The best dessert, by far, was the lemoncello tarte. It was so good that we wanted everyone else at the table to try it, even if it meant we couldn't hoard it for ourselves ... since when was a dessert so delicious that you HAD to share it?? Lemoncello, by the way, is an Italian liqueur, a specialty of Amalfi and made from the local lemons there. It's much better in this tarte than in a glass!
Other than than the high price, the other thing that might draw negative comments is that it's crowded and busy, but that's not a bad thing for a restaurant. Some people recommend the antipasti bar for sitting because it might be cheaper, rather than the dining room. Depends on how many people are in your group, we suppose.
Of course, maybe it was so wonderful because it was Christmas day, and we were all relieved to be together and healthy after what could politely be called a tough few months. That's probably true, but the food was actually good and the service was rather smooth and efficient, and everyone was nice (even when one of us kept asking for samples of everything in the antipasti bar ...) We're happy we came here, and are happy for the nice memories!
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