Entries in Bar Milano (3)


The Payoff: Bar Milano

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.

And lastly:

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

Rolling the Dice: Bar Milano

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni looks in on Jason Denton’s first post-Lupa solo act, Bar Milano. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 3-2
Two Stars:
3-1 √√
Three Stars:
Four Stars:

The Skinny: The easiest thing about this week’s bet is to declare what Bar Milano is not, “a fun three-star place,” as its owners put it. In so declaring, the Dentons assured themselves of one thing: they will not receive three stars. That’s the curse of any restauranteur so foolish as to declare in advance how many stars they are gunning for.

We were torn between one star and two, but unlike Frank had the luxury of splitting the difference at 1½. As Eater notes, the reviews have been mixed, but Bruni has waited a while, and perhaps the kitchen has settled down. Lastly, Bruni loves anybody who has touched Mario Batali’s halo. If it’s a close call, that argues for rounding up.

The Bet: We’re not as confident as we’d like to be, but we’re betting that Frank Bruni will award two stars to Bar Milano.


Bar Milano

barmilano_outside.jpg barmilano_inside.jpg

Note: You can probably guess what rating Bar Milano got from Italian-loving Frankie two-stars, despite “bungled pastas.” The rest of the dining community, including us, had a more muted response. Bar Milano closed at the end of 2008 and has re-opened as a clone of the same owners’ more casual place on the Lower East Side, ’inoteca. That spot closed in September 2012.


There’s no shortage of great Italian restaurants in New York, so it’s tough for a new one to command attention. So far, Bar Milano is off to a great start. In the first six weeks, reservations have generally been tough to come by.

It helps to have Jason Denton running the show. With four previous establishments (’Ino, ’Inoteca, Lupa, Otto), he has shown a knack for the kind of stylish-yet-casual restaurant that feels like a neighborhood place, but has the following of a dining destination. It’s something that many restauranteurs aspire to, but that Denton seems invariably to get right. Joining him here are brother Joe Denton (’Ino, ’Inoteca) and chefs he lured from two of those restaurants, Eric Kleinman (’Inoteca) and Steve Connaughton (Lupa).

A name like “Bar ______” can mean almost anything these days (just like “Bistro” or “Brasserie”). This is the fifth Bar Something-or-other that I’ve reviewed this year, and they have little in common. I’m not sure it has much to do with “Milano,” either. The cuisine is allegedly Northern Italian, but only in the loosest sense.


There is indeed a lovely bar here, and the house cocktails are worth a look. From a set called “Lost & Somewhat Forgotten” I had a Rattlesnake ($13), with Rittenhouse rye, Pernod, lemon juice, powdered sugar and egg white. The bar tab was transferred to my table without complaint, which ought to happen all the time, but often doesn’t.

There are 20 American whiskies available for a classic Manhattan cocktail, or 10 gins for a classic Martini. The menu offers no suggestions for any of the 9 vodkas.

Bread service

The dinner menu is somewhat pricey for this patch of Third Avenue. Success will depend on attracting a destination crowd, as the Dentons have historically done at their lower priced restaurants. Antipasti here are $10–15, primi $9–24, and secondi $20–43 (but most under $30). An eight-course tasting menu looks like it’s a bargain at $85.

Bread service is a bit spartan, with two people asked to share a single slender bread stick, a small slice of bread and an equally puny dinner roll.

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Left: Tajarin con Porri Selvatici; Right: Agnolotti di Gamberi

We had mixed reactions to our pasta starters. Tajarin con Porri Selvatici ($17), or pasta with ramps and bread crumbs, had a nice crunchy texture. I liked the way the ramps were integrated into the dish, instead of being just seasonal add-ons used mostly for show.

But Agnolotti di Gamberi ($18), or shrimp-filled pasta with peas and mint, was not nearly as appetizing, with the taste of peas being far too dominant.

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Left: Costolette di Maiele (pork chop); Right: Cotoletta alla Milanese (veal chop)

A pork chop ($26) and a veal chop ($32) were both expertly done, though if I’d stumbled on either preparation in another restaurant, I wouldn’t have associated them with Italy. The pork chop lay on a bed of escarole and was topped with a mustard fruit somewhat redolent of applesauce; the veal chop had a light, delecate bread crumb crust.

barmilano05.jpgThe meal ended with a couple of small petits-fours that seemed, like the bread service to start with, a little skimpy.

Service was polished and attentive, but this was the Friday evening before Memorial Day, and the dining room was clearly less busy than it would ordinarily be.

The Dentons told W Magazine that they envisioned Bar Milano as “a fun three-star place.” Bar Milano is fun, but it isn’t three stars. The food here is generally solid, but there are some soft spots on the menu, and there isn’t enough Milano in it. Like their other restaurants, it is a slightly over-achieving neighborhood place.

Bar Milano (323 Third Avenue at 24th Street, Gramercy)

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