***After the Chris Cannon and Michael White partnership ended late 2010, Alto was closed in March 2011***
My friends often ask me how I chose restaurants to dine and review. In their mind, there’s some laborious process of review reading, twitter following, and carefully picking the exact dishes I plan to order after a restaurant has been selected. Actually, the process is much simpler than that. In my quest to understand the culinary scene, I stumble upon so many great restaurants, chefs, and restaurateurs. One restaurant leads to another, at which point it’s simply a matter of time and budget to experience the cuisine.
I have known about the restaurant Alto for quite some time now, even drove by the restaurant on quite a few occasions. However Alto never made it onto my revolving short list of restaurants to eat. Last month, while looking at the results of the James Beard Awards, I noticed that chef Michael White scored the “Best New Restaurant” award for Marea, along with a Michelin Star in its first year of existence. Then I learned that not only is he the executive chef of Marea, but also two other Italian restaurants Convivio and Alto, both with Michelin Stars. So the plan was set for the Michael White dining trilogy, here’s part one:
Alto hit the Midtown dining scene back in 2005, under the helm of Scott Conant, a young and ascending chef. Using his global culinary background to interpret Italian cuisine, Alto immediately became a hit in Mid-Town Manhattan. Just as the restaurant was experiencing solid growth, the unexpected happened. Scott Conant announced his departure from the restaurant. Many were ready to call the demise of Alto.
Enter Michael White, hailing from the acclaimed Fiamma Osteria, he was to not only fill Conant’s shoes at Alto, but also take over at L’Impero, the sister restaurant. Fast forward a few years, and not only is Alto thriving, L’Impero has also been given new life as Convivio. The partnership between Chef White and operating partner Chris Cannon has further expanded to a new Italian restaurant Marea, as well as two more restaurants in New Jersey.
Arriving at Alto, I expected a type of elegance found exclusively at the top tier Manhattan restaurants. I was a bit disappointed to see that the room looked slightly dated, and the overall ambiance a bit dark. Service was good and attentive at the front of the door, but not with the grace and flair of the elite.
We were seated in the main dining room, surrounded by glass walls displaying back-lit, empty wine bottles. The menu offered a tasting menu on the first page, which was incredibly tempting. Constrained by time and budget, we opted for the 4 course menu where you choose from the appetizer, pasta (or risotto), meat (or fish), and dessert.
Since Alto is renown for its wine service, we opted for a bottle of red wine. The sommelier made many great suggestions, and the final selection was very good.
There were 8 choices for the antipasti, and we went with the mushroom soup and the foie gras terrine. The soup was excellent, while the foie gras was solid, it lacked the flair of how the french deal with duck liver.
Next we had to choose between 6 pastas and a risotto. I had the Cansonei con Baccala e Salsa Verde, an astonishing cod ravioli. I don’t regularly eat ravioli, but thoroughly licked this dish. My guest enjoyed the risotto, which was packed with flavor.
We both opted for red meat for the final savory course, I had the lamb, which was cooked exquisitely. The veal with pancetta cream sauce was also very tender, not to mention quite large is size.
For the dessert, definitely try the Panna Cotta, it’s divine.
All in all, the dinner was a great time. The food is wonderful, the service very attentive, and the atmosphere pleasing. There are little details here and there preventing this restaurant from joining the elite, but it’s got a comfortable niche where it’s at.
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11 East 53rd Street
New York, NY 10022