BWW Reviews: NELLO in NYC is A One-of-a-Kind Dining Experience
Nello, an Upper East Side fixture amid the chi-chi shops of Madison Avenue, is where the well-heeled hungry have dined for two decades. It's named for its founder, Nello Balan, of Romanian descent, who is reputed to be an ancestor of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Count Dracula). We didn't ask for proof.
Famed for attracting A-listers, Nello, now solely owed by restaurateur Thomas Makkos, offers an eclectic sprawling menu that highlights truffles in many of its dishes. But be forewarned: Nello's is not for the faint-of-wallet. Yes, it's pricey, but it wouldn't still be around if it didn't deliver.
A generously sized interior offers white linen table-clothed tables and black banquettes adorned with mirrors and wildlife photography by the acclaimed photographer Peter Beard. The photos of elephants, giraffes, and wild boar are sepia-toned, complementing the subdued lighting. Sidewalk tables are popular as well.
Green and white French tulips in simple glass vases adorn the tables. The expansive menu is also a show-piece for Beard's artful design. Prepare to spend a long time perusing the choices, for there are many. Appetizers include caciofi, thinly sliced baby artichoke with white truffle oil. Simple greens artfully arranged include Insalata Mista, with mesclun, grape tomatoes and champagne vinaigrette. Other enticing appetizers abound. Just be forewarned: don't fill up before your entrée comes. You won't want to miss a bite.
If you're in a hot soup mood, try the acclaimed lobster bisque with Maryland blue crabmeat or the hearty original chicken soup. If you'd rather try something cooler, go for the gazpacho with yellow, red and green ugly tomatoes (which earn the moniker). A festive basket of assorted breads offers basil breadsticks, focaccia and crunchy Italian. Try them with the oil and vinegar that accompanies the morsels. Tasty.
My companion decided on the calameretti fruiti, pan-seared crispy baby squid in arrabiata sauce that provided a little after-kick. More than just a spicy marinara, it nicely complemented the crunchiness of the squid.
The Portobello mushroom was plate size, meaty and roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. A side of greens added a nice counter-point. If simplicity is your preference, try the grilled vegetables. Gian Maria, a new server at the time (barely three weeks), recited a tempting array of specials, some with the famed truffles. They sounded intriguing but we had our hearts set on fish.
Among the entrees you'll find an assortment of chicken dishes, including pan-roasted organic, and chicken breast specialties. You'll find a Milanesa breaded veal chop, filet mignon flambe and grilled National Colorado lamb chops with potato au gratin. The pasta dishes range from capellini to fettucine, all given the Nello touch.
Fish lovers rejoice-red snapper, squid-filled with shrimp, grilled sea scallops, wild Alaska grilled salmon brushed with balsamic vinegar and a sea bass cooked in a lobster saffron veloute with rice pilaf are all available. Not to mention brook trout, swordfish and halibut and miso cod.
We settled on the miso cod (for him) and salmon for me. The salmon was nicely grilled and accompanied by mixed greens with champagne vinaigrette. The salmon was tender and flavorful. The miso cod was deemed delicious, and it was. (I had to try it.) While we dined, intriguing instrumental music played throughout the spacious room. "It sounds like the soundtrack from an Italian spy movie," quipped my date.
I'm not sure how we found room for dessert, but we managed. It was hard to sample just one among the selection that included crème brulee, warm apple strudel, ricotta cheese cake, warm chocolate cake with walnut, napoleon and fresh mixed berries (with or without whipped or ice cream). The napoleon was light with lots of delicious layers. The fresh berries included raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. A perfect ending.
Nello is located at 696 Madison Avenue between 62nd and 63rd Streets. For information and reservations, call: 212-980-9099.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nello