At Bar Milano, Christmas comes early today, with a two-star gift from Frank Bruni. Let’s go ahead and call it a one-star restaurant, as it properly is, and quote Frank’s evidence:
Italian cooking is about a lot more than pasta, but an Italian restaurant that bungles its pasta dishes is like a Las Vegas resort that doesn’t let you gamble. There’s still plenty to enjoy, but you’re likely to feel that the essential point and signature pleasure of the place have been lost.
Bar Milano bungles its pasta dishes. Not all of them, but too many, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ones. And by pasta dishes I mean the “primi” section of the menu, which includes a few risotto dishes. Bar Milano bungles them as well.
…there are also less rewarding routes, along with an overall sense — surprising, frustrating — that a dedicated team of accomplished pros have undercut a potentially excellent restaurant with some significant missteps.
What they do well, they do superbly: a rabbit terrine, crunchy-edged duck breast with duck sausage and lentils. What they do less well — orecchiette with lamb, lobster risotto, tagliatelle with favas — is hard to overlook.
The dining room conjures a spirit of its own. One design element trumps all others, and it’s one of the restaurant’s missteps: a long, mesmerizing wall of marble strips and rectangles in different colors.
The owners must have paid a fortune for it, and are still paying for it, in terms of the room’s awful acoustics. You can see — in the carpeting, in the fabric on banquettes — attempts to fix the problem, but the cure isn’t taking. At a crowded hour you’ll spend much of your interactions with servers asking them to repeat what they just said or repeating what you’ve just said. Bar Milano is like a cellphone with constantly bad reception.
Desserts aren’t one of Bar Milano’s strengths, but drinks certainly are… Throw back a few of these and you might not even notice the pasta.
To be sure, Bruni does find some good things at Bar Milano. But in the Times rating system, “two stars” allegedly means “very good.” In our book, it shouldn’t mean “half bad.” There’s some serious grade-inflation going on at Times HQ.
To be sure, we did predict that Bruni would award two stars here. But we thought he would write the kind of enthusiastic review that a two-star rating calls for. We and Eater at least got the prediction right. We both win $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.
Eater NYJ Bankroll $91.50 $115.67 Gain/Loss +3.00 +3.00 Total $94.50 $118.67 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Won–Lost 43–20 46–17