Tables for Two


by Kelly Snowden, New York Observer contributor, 02/05/2009

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7. Alto

11 E. 53rd St. • 212-308-1099

New York ObserverAt first glance, Alto can seem aloof and austere. It's set slightly back from a midtown street, its entryway dominated by smoked glass and a dining room packed with a local crowd of business types on expense accounts during the day and designer-laden couples at night. Once you hand in your coat and enter the main dining area, though, a warmer palette of browns and greens takes over. The service and food continue to heat up your welcome, with northern Italian specialties prepared by chef Michael White, who improbably managed to improve on the menu after Scott Conant's departure. The fluke carpaccio is a riot of citrus colors, with petal-like cuts of watermelon radish and Aleppo chile flakes. Appetizers can lean toward the adventurous—veal sweetbreads—or the tame, with mushroom soup and a simple market salad with hazelnut vinaigrette. Pastas are the main event, though. Even the simplest dish, spaghetti with tomato and basil, is elevated as the semolina strands are hand-cut and swirled into a lovely bright-red nest. Raviolis are stuffed with oxtail and come in a beef broth. Equally artful mains, like a rack of lamb with chickpeas and olives and duck breast with celery root puree, round out the menu. Alto wants you to cozy up to the wine as well, with floor-to-ceiling backlit bottles and a 99-page list. Now if you could just get your own expense account.

Table for Two
Perched on a secluded balcony above the main dining floor, Table 69 is for the exhibitionist couple who doesn't mind looking down on their fellow diners (literally). The locale guarantees a novel experience, but you may feel a little like you're on display.

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