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Note: As of May 2008 Abboccato was apparently searching for a new chef de cuisine.

For me, Abboccato was a “when I get around to it” restaurant — a place that looked interesting, but not enough to make it a special priority. Well, I finally got around to it, and it turns out Abboccato is terrific. I should have tried it a lot sooner, and so should you.

Abboccato comes from the Livanos family—the same folks that run Oceana and Molyvos. It’s not a bad trio to be associated with. The chef is Jim Bostacos, who has bounced around town, and earned three stars at Molyvos. But he’s half Italian, and he made the hop to Abboccato, where the Livanos gave him more creative control.

abboccato_outside.jpgIn October 2005, Marian Burros of The New York Times (subbing for the vacationing Bruni) awarded a fairly enthusiastic two stars, finding considerable potential, but a few dishes over or under-salted. In New York, Adam Platt (in the days before he awarded stars)  liked the place too, but found the menu overly long and complicated—a problem many Italian restaurants seem to have these days.

The menu seems to have undergone some editing since then; it is now a more focused document than Platt found it. There are the obvious categories of antipasti ($14–16), primi ($22–26),  secondi and whole fish ($32–38), and side dishes ($8). There is also a pre-theater prix fixe (we arrived too late to sample it), and a pasta tasting menu at $55 per person.

Whether Marian Burros’s complaints have been addressed is harder to judge on one visit, but everything we tasted was without fault.

abboccato01a.jpg abboccato01b.jpg

To start, we shared an order of the ravioli ($22). Silky-smooth pasta pillows were lined with wild greens, and glazed with a riccotta and bone marrow butter sauce. We moved on to the branzino for two ($70). The server presented the whole fish for inspection, then whisked it away to be filleted. There was nothing complicated here, but there didn’t need to be. The fish was simply grilled, with olive oil and rosemary, and served with a garnish of crushed olives.

abboccato02.jpgWe finished up with the Mascarpone Cheese Cake ($9), topped (improbably) with a strawberry-pink peppercorn sauce that managed to work, despite the odd name.

There were a couple of odd service issues near the beginning of the meal: a too-eager server taking our wine order before we’d even been shown menus; bread served without butter or olive oil. But things settled down after that.

The restaurant was not even close to full at prime time on a Saturday night, and that’s too bad: Abboccato deserves much more attention.

Abboccato (136 W. 55th Street between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, West Midtown)

Food: **½
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½

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