Mario Batali is not the only person to open a high-priced, high-stakes Italian restaurant in the Meatpacking District in the past few months. Valerie Malfetano unveiled the 9,000-square-foot, bi-level Valbella--an outpost of a celebrated Greenwich, Connecticut, eatery--to little fanfare in October. Dining here is not unlike dining at Del Posto. The main room has a grandiose, open-air feel; private tables are available upstairs; the wine list is impressive (8,000 bottles in the collection); and a meal here costs nearly as much as a plane ticket to Milan (expect to pay at least $300 for a dinner for two, assuming you have wine). Located just a few doors down from Spice Market, Valbella is unabashedly upscale. Servers wear formal attire and celebrity patrons are not uncommon (Regis Philbin dined here the night we visited). Two types of dishes, in particular, stand out: pasta and veal. The menu boasts about a dozen versions of each, if you include the numerous specials that servers rattle off impressively before the meal. High-end ingredients make their way into many dishes. A spicy risotto comes with lobster, shrimp, scallops and crabmeat, and porcini, prosciutto, chardonnay and filet mignon pop up in the pastas--though it"s hard to justify spending $27 and up for noodles. Almost every veal option is paired with some delicious-sounding haute element: veal scaloppine is stuffed with serrano ham and ratatouille, and topped with truffle crème fraîche; and filet mignon of veal comes with sliced pear, hazelnut and Brie, and is served in a brandy sauce. But ultimately, with the abundance of other good Italian restaurants in town--Vento, Nero and Macelleria are all around the corner--it"s hard to understand who exactly will be the repeat customer here. Besides Regis.
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