Note: Costata closed at the end of 2015. After the initial rush was over, there weren’t enough diners willing to pay the premium for Michael White’s fine-dining take on a fancey steakhouse. (I returned a couple of times after this review, and never had trouble getting in without a reservation.)
In his heyday, the tenor Luciano Pavarotti could have recited the telephone directory in a monotone, and people would have paid to hear it. The chef Michael White is in a similar position: his restaurants are instantly popular, for no other reason than his association with them.
White’s New York career began at Fiamma, where over a decade ago he earned three stars, working for Stephen Hanson of all people. His career really took off when he left in 2007, taking over two upscale Italian places (now closed) in partnership with Chris Cannon. After an intervening soap opera, he finally wound up with an empire called Altamarea Group, which includes ten restaurants in two U.S. states and on three continents, including five in New York City alone.
That track record guarantees attention, but not acclaim. His pizza place, Nicoletta, got terrible reviews; it’s still open, but gets almost no press. There are no such worries at Costata, his Italian steakhouse in the former Fiamma space. Most of the pro critics haven’t filed yet, but I believe they’ll agree: it’s a hit.
Costata takes the chef back to the formal idiom where he’s had his greatest successes. It’s a style that’s making a mild comeback, but that many Chowhound-trained diners still view with grave suspicion.
“I don’t want to let fine dining die,” he told The Times. Good for him.
Much like White’s flagship, the two Michelin-starred Marea, Costata isn’t for bargain-hunters. The steaks and chops range from $45–59, with just two entrées under $40 (chicken: $33; bass: $37). A majority of the crudi and appetizers are above $20. Most of the pastas hover in the high teens; side dishes are all $10.
Figure on a minimum of $125 per person, and it can easily be far more, depending on wine. That’s not a criticism: Costata is worth it, assuming you like the genre. But it’s not for those seeking deliciousness in a casual room.
The mostly-Italian wine list runs to nearly 30 pages. You can do business starting at $50, but the heart of the list begins at around $75 and goes into three digits: expensive, but not necessarily unfair. The 2003 San Leonardo ($74; above left), a peppery red from the north of Italy, struck me as one of the list’s better deals: served slightly chilled, as it should be, and decanted at my request.
A page of the wine list offers premium wines via the Coravin, a device resembling a hypodermic needle that can pour by the glass without pulling the cork — thus, you can sample a 1997 Brunello ($48) or a 2003 Sassicaia ($95) without having to invest in a whole bottle. I didn’t try these, but I watched someone who did. The pours are not very generous, and neither is the regular by-the-glass list.
I dropped in several times to sample Eben Freeman’s cocktails. They’re $16 apiece, and in relation to his work elsewhere, not a reason to visit. I also came twice for the food, and would have liked to try a lot more.
The bread service (below left) is a soft, house-made focaccia with a lardo and olive oil dip.
There’s an abundant selection of crudi, and I was able to try four of these. Fluke ($18; above right) with tomato confit, olives and basil, has a bracing, tart flavor. The scallop ($23; below left), with celery root and black truffle vinaigrette, is terrific.
We also liked the soft-shell crab ($22; above right), but sardines ($19; below left), with chickpea pesto and preserved lemon, were comparatively pedestrian.
The one pasta that I tried, the Garganelli alla Fiamma ($21; above right), went straight for the gut: prosciuto, peas, truffle cream, and probably a pound of butter. If you want to know why Michael White is a pasta wizzard, start here.
(I believe all the pastas, listed as $17–21 on the menu, are also available as half-orders. The portion above was a full order, and after two crudi I couldn’t finish it.)
I’d have liked to try more of the steaks, but that’ll have to wait for another time. We went for the namesake dish, the 44-ounce Costata for two ($118; above), a gargantuan ribeye, aged 40 days, with a bone the length of a tire iron, to which the kitchen applied an appealing crust. This is an excellent steak, but although you expect high fat content in a ribeye, this was perhaps too much of a good thing.
There are a dozen sides. I hope most of them are better than the zucchini with anchovy vinaigrette ($10; right), which were watery and didn’t have much flavor.
The service was friendly and polished on all of my visits, whether at the bar or at the table. At times, you’ll get the sense that the staff have eyes growing out of the back of their heads, so attentive are they. Of course, you pay for that.
The bi-level space is smartly renovated, with bars on both levels and generously-spaced tables with white table cloths. If you like fine dining, you’ll be comfortable here.
The food is very close to flawless: I disliked just a side dish and one of four crudi. Unless I win the lottery, I won’t be dropping in every week. If I could afford it I certainly would.
Costata (206 Spring Street, east of Sixth Avenue, Soho)
Food: An Italian steakhouse, plus Michael White’s crudi and pastas
Service: As fine dining should be
Ambiance: An elegant two-story townhouse