Entries in Ciano (3)


Cucina Ciano

Note: Cuciana Ciano closed in August 2014 due to a dispute with the landlord. The space is expected to become a French restaurant called Monte Carlo.


Remember Pan Am, the airline? After it folded in 1991, it was resuscitated six times, in each instance having nothing whatsoever to do with the original, aside from the name.

This is the comparison that comes to mind when you visit Cucina Ciano on the Upper East Side, which shares ownership and a name—but little else—in common with Ciano, which failed nobly after a three-year run in the Flatiron District.

The chef at Ciano was Shea Gallante, who came thisclose to earning four stars at Cru, and was very close to three at Ciano. The food and the setting were refined, in a way few new restaurants are any more: the perfect second- or third-date restaurant.

The impressive wine program, with former Cru sommelier John Slover in charge, offered most of the list by the half-bottle for 50 percent of the full bottle price. Even if the food had been merely average (and it wasn’t), Ciano was worth repeated visits for the wine alone.

Ciano closed abruptly in April 2013 for unspecified reasons, although I had long suspected that the upscale Italian restaurant market segment was over-saturated, which turned out to be the case.

Owner Stratis Morfogen transported the name and one of Shea Gallante’s sous chefs, Tim Huynh, way uptown. But he brought little else that had made Ciano the charming place it was. A loud, hectic scrum greets you at the door. Tables are crushed close together. The space is not at all pleasant.

The mostly-Italian, two-page wine list has very few of the unusual selections that would bring you back, and they’re no longer available by the half-bottle.

We ordered two of the house cocktails. and in both cases the bar was out of a main ingredient. They’re served in mugs the size of water goblets, and with so much ice that they quickly become diluted. 

The food isn’t memorable. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d wait a few months until the crowds die down, and give it another try to see if the chef has his act together. Right now, it is uneven. Prices are lower than at the original Ciano, with primi $10–19, pastas $14–18 for half portions, $24–25 for entrée portions, secondi $24–42, and side dishes $8. That’s the going rate in this part of town.

The bread service (above right) looks impressive, but bread sticks and focaccia were both stale; the warm garlic bread was pretty good, though.


A mediocre Caesar Salad ($12; above left) was under-dressed and featured but one measly anchovy. The bartender recommended the Veal Meatballs ($16; above right), a wise choice. They’re a bit expensive for what you get, but at least the dish is well made.


Wendy gave her endorsement to the Garganelli with Duck Bolognese (above left). She ordered the half-portion ($15), and it was ample. The Pork Chop with a honey glaze ($29; above right) was a hair over-done, but I finished it nonetheless.

It’s understandable that Cucina Ciano is less ambitious than Ciano. When an upscale place fails, its replacement is usually more casual. But no one who admired the original Ciano should be misled. Very little of what made it special has survived the trip uptown. It’s still a decent neighborhood spot, and right now the local crowd is keeping it full. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d give it three months and then go back, hoping to find it less hectic.

Cucina Ciano (181 E. 78th St. btwn Third & Lexington Avenues, Upper East Side)

Food: At its best, slightly better than neighborhood Italian
Service: Fine, considering the crowds
Ambiance: A loud, bustling room 



NYC's Top Ten New Restaurants of 2010

’Tis the season when food writers sum up a year’s worth of dining, so here are my top ten new restaurants of 2010.

It was not a great year. No new restaurant earned three or four stars on our rating scale, although two came close: Millesime and Tamarind Tribeca. Sam Sifton of the Times awarded three stars to just one new place, Colicchio & Sons, but most critics (including me) found it disappointing. There is no “almost” in Timesspeak, but it did not appear that Sifton came even close to awarding three stars to any other new restaurant.

This does not mean that we ate badly, only that our best meals in new restaurants were at the lower end of the dining spectrum. This isn’t really surprising. Restaurants generally have six to eighteen-month planning cycles. If you’d been planning a new place in 2008 or 2009, how ambitious would you have been?

I’ve ordered the restaurants based on my dining experiences, which in most cases was one visit. Unlike the pro critics, I’m spending my own money. If I am disappointed, I’m not going to go back a second or third time, just to see if it was a fluke. Even when I like a place, I often don’t have the time or money to go back right away.

Some of the restaurants listed below actually opened in late 2009. I’ve included them if my first (or only) visit was in calendar year 2010.

1. Millesime. Chef Laurent Manrique returns to NYC (he was here in the ’90s), having won two Michelin stars in San Francisco. This classic French seafood brasserie doesn’t soar quite as high as that, but it was the best meal we had this year in a new restaurant. In our book, the food was three stars, though the service had some catching up to do. P.S. The downstairs “salon” is pretty good, too.

2. The Breslin. We adore the Breslin. Chef April Bloomfield’s fat-forward menu won’t be to all tastes, and it could be downright artery-clogging if we ate like this every day, but the chef doesn’t pander, and everything she does is impeccably prepared. They have a great lamb burger, and it’s great for breakfast too.

3. Tamarind Tribeca. This big-box Indian restaurant was the sleeper hit of 2010. We never imagined it would be this good. I gave it 2½ stars, but looking back, I am not sure why it didn’t get three. Of course, we sampled only a sliver of the menu, but what we had was flawless.

4. ABC Kitchen. Jean-Georges Vongerichten entered the farm-to-table game with a splash. Who’d have expected a restaurant in a home furnishings store to be this successful? JGV’s restaurants are notorious for quickly turning mediocre, after the attention-deficit chef wanders off to his next project. But if Chef Dan Kluger sticks around, ABC Kitchen could stay relevant for a long time. But good luck getting a last-minute reservation: the place is perpetually packed.

5. Ciano. Chef Shea Gallante (ex-Cru) returns to New York with a wonderful (if expensive) Italian restaurant, with a terrific wine list that allows most bottles to be ordered by the half. We would have rated this one higher, but one of our entrées was a dud (over-priced, under-cooked lamb chops).

6. Kin Shop. The year’s best Thai restaurant comes from an American, Top Chef alumnus Harold Dieterle. Not quite authentic, but clearly inspired by Thailand, the menu has both hits and misses, but the former are very good indeed.

7. Osteria Morini. Chef Michael White’s first casual Italian restaurant is dedicated to the hearty cuisine of Emilia-Romagna. Some of the dishes may seem over-bearing and unsubtle, but we liked just about everything we tried, even if the soundtrack is too loud and the paper napkins too cheap for the prices White is charging.

8. Manzo. If we were judging the food alone, we’d rate Mario Batali’s temple of Italian beef higher, but it’s smack dab in the middle of the city’s most crowded supermarket, Eataly. It is awfully expensive, for a space that is so unpleasant.

9. Riverpark. This is a “Tom Colicchio restaurant” that doesn’t charge Tom Colicchio prices. His former sandwich guy, Sisha Ortuzar, turns out to be a fine chef. But how many people will become regulars at a place that’s half-a-mile from the nearest subway station? We sure won’t.

10. Taureau. Chef Didier Pawlicki (of La Sirène) opened this all-fondue joint to very little critical notice. We loved our meal, but we’re not going to return regularly for such a limited menu. Still, we think it’s a great date place. There’s nothing like cooking raw meat in a shared pot of boiling oil to bring people closer.


Honorable Mentions: There are a few notable places that didn’t make our list, that nevertheless deserve a word or two.

1. Anfora. This quickly became my go-to wine bar after it opened in May. I probably visited fifteen or twenty times. But unlike some wine bars, the food menu here is too limited to qualify Anfora as a real restaurant. That’s why it didn’t make my top ten.

2. Maialino. Danny Meyer’s Roman Trattoria actually opened in late 2009, and we reviewed it in December, but most of the pro critics reviewed it this year, so you’ll probably see it on a lot of Top Ten lists. Our own meal there was slightly disappointing, but it was probably atypical, as Meyer’s restaurants tend to get better over time.

3. Má Pêche. You’ll definitely see David Chang’s first midtown restaurant on most critics’ top-ten lists, despite the fact that hardly anyone thought he had improved upon, or even equaled, what he’d achieved in the East Village. But in a bad year, Chang’s seconds are still pretty good. I dined here three times, and will again, but the review meal was not that great, although I hear the menu has changed a lot since then.

4. Recette. Jesse Schenker’s small-plates restaurant will also be on a lot of top-ten lists. I liked everything I tried; by the same token, I can’t actually remember any of it without re-reading my own review. It lacked (for me) any of the more memorable dishes from our top-ten list.

5. Terroir Tribeca. This was my other go-to wine bar, and unlike Anfora, it does have enough of a menu to qualify as a real restaurant. It doesn’t make the top ten because it’s practically the same as Terroir in the East Village, which opened in 2008. (Tamarind Tribeca, which does make our top ten, is quite a bit different from the original Tamarind in the Flatiron District.)



Note: Ciano closed in April 2013. Management says that it will re-open on the Upper East Side in August 2013 as Cucina Ciano, with one of chef Shea Gallante’s assistants, but without Gallante himself.


Shea Gallante is back. The chef who made Cru into one of the city’s best restaurants, only to see his work undercut and eventually rendered irrelevant by the Great Recession, has his own place again: Ciano.

In an era of increasing informality, Cru was one of the few restaurants that actually got fancier between its 2004 opening and our most recent check-in, two years ago. But after the fall of Lehman Brothers, the restaurant was forced to reverse field, adopting a less expensive à la carte format and slashing the prices on its legendary wine list by 30 percent.

Gallante never explained his departure. A plausible guess is that when Cru became unsustainable in its original form, he preferred to go out on his own terms. Sure enough, Cru is now closed. Gallante went back briefly to David Bouley’s empire (from which he’d come), then did some consulting in Westchester, and is now back in New York.

Ciano occupies the pretty space that was formerly Beppo. I was never there, but as the re-fit was brief, I assume that a lot of the décor was retained. It’s a beautiful setting for what I call adult dining, with a long polished wood bar, flowers and tablecloths on every table, and a roaring fireplace.

The Italian serving staff—all men, and none of them youngsters—are likely carry-overs too: where else would they find so many waiters of that age on short notice? The patrons also skewed to middle-aged, though not exclusively so. Perhaps many of them had been Beppo regulars, and wanted to see if the new place measures up.

There was always an Italian accent to Gallante’s cuisine at Cru, but it is overtly Italian here. Prices are roughly in line with Cru’s à la carte phase, but without the tasting menus. No one would call it inexpensive. Insalate are $12–15, antipasti $11–18, pastas $19–28 (smaller portions listed for about 1/4th less), secondi $28–35 (not counting the ribeye for two, $48pp), and contorni $10.

Beyond Gallante’s sure hand in the kitchen, what elevates Ciano is its wine program, run by his former Cru colleague, John Slover. As he does at Bar Henry, Slover sells a slew of wines by the half-bottle — the majority of the list, in fact. And we’re not talking about the cheap stuff, either. Real wines of interest, bottles with age, are available by the half, at 50 percent of the bottle price. This is a boon for the customer, but it clearly entails a risk for the restaurnant, as an open bottle quickly deterioriates if another no one buys the other half reasonably promptly.

We began with two of the tenderest Roasted Veal Meatballs ($18; above left) that I’ve had in a long time, so smooth they could have been Kobe beef. Gnocchi ($28; above right) with black truffle butter and 36-month parmigiano were a creamy delight. 

I loved the Berkshire Pork Roast ($32; above left), but it exemplifies the challenge of attracting customers to a restaurant like Ciano. Gallante is clearly sourcing the best beef. With a Barolo vinegar and grilled maitake mushroom sauce, he isn’t stinting on the other ingredients. But diners may ask, “What’s with $32 for pork shoulder?” Lamb Chops ($33; above right) were so rare that I thought they could still “Baaaaa,” and that’s a lot of money for two measly chops.

The experienced server was more polished than one usually finds at a new restaurant, and he didn’t hesitate to share his opinion. He was quite adamant that the smaller-size pasta orders (generally $5–6 less than the full-size ones) aren’t worth the tariff. And when we asked that our shared appetizer and pasta courses be brought out separately, he insisted it would confuse the kitchen, which we found very difficult to believe. Apart from that, he was on top of things.

Obviously, this isn’t bargain dining . Gallante’s technical ability is rock-solid, but he is cooking in a simpler, from-the-gut, style than he did at Cru. Success here will depend on people being willing to spend a bit more for more polished versions of dishes that are available less expensively at more stylish destinations.

I, for one, am happy to do that, but I’m not the guy that restaurant investors are targeting these days.

Ciano (45 E. 22nd Street, east of Park Avenue, Gramercy/Flatiron)

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