Entries in Felidia (2)



By coincidence, I dined at Babbo and Felidia on consecutive evenings last week. The two restaurants are related, as Felidia is owned by Lidia Bastianich, while her son Joe is a partner in Babbo.

We had the pasta tasting menu at Babbo, and as I noted in my blog post, the savory courses ended in a whimper. There’s no reason why a progression of five pastas can’t all be terrific, but in this case there was a failure of imagination at the end of the sequence—nothing bad, but too bland. And the bread service was disappointing, with neither butter nor olive oil in sight.

At Felidia, we had the five-course market tasting menu (~$75)—one of several multi-course fixed menus the restaurant offers. I wasn’t taking notes that evening, but we started with an excellent beef carpaccio; then a salad-like substance that was the only dud; then an excellent quinoa risotto and an even better duo of squab. I wouldn’t rush back for the bread service, but with several spreads in lieu of butter, it was at least acceptable.

The wine list has moderated a bit since my last visit. There are plenty of budget-busting bottles, if you want them, but I had no trouble finding reasonable options under $50.

Service was excellent, but for one serious faux pas at the end. Our server said, “We need the table for another party, but please feel free to have a drink at the bar.” I don’t think any three-star restaurant has ever asked me to vacate a table, and I don’t believe we lingered longer than one normally would at this type of restaurant.

But if they’re going to invite you for a drink, they should at least follow through. Instead, we were left to fend for ourselves, and when we got downstairs the bar was packed three deep. It was obvious that the offer of a drink was only a ploy to turn the table. I am glad that Felidia is not struggling for customers, but this should have been handled better.

Felidia (243 E. 58th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, East Midtown)

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




Note: Click here for a more recent review of Felidia.

Felidia is the gold standard for Italian restaurants in New York. If the arc of New York Times reviews can be believed, it has only gotten better since it opened in 1981. Just three months after it opened, Mimi Sheraton awarded one star, finding the food “disappointingly inconsistent.” By 1988, Bryan Miller found it “more consistent,” bumping it up to two stars. By 1995, Ruth Reichl found it “charming and professional,” promoting it to three stars, which Frank Bruni re-affirmed last year.

Bruni said that Felidia “hasn’t changed all that much” since Ruth Reichl’s review, which only shows how careless he can be. Reichl referred to “the bare upstairs dining room.” Judging by the photo (which is almost exactly the view we had from our table), the restaurant has been renovated since then. Reichl also referred to “great wines (at great prices),” which today is only half true. The enormous wine list is still terrific (and hard to navigate), but no one would call it a bargain.

More importantly, Felidia got itself a new executive chef a year after Reichl’s review was published. Fortunato Nicotra has helmed the kitchen since 1996. With owner Lidia Bastianich busy running a restaurant empire, writing cookbooks, and hosting TV shows, it’s safe to say that Felidia’s three-star laurels rest on his shoulders more than anyone else’s.

I dined at Felidia with a colleague about a month ago. Everything we ordered was absolutely first-rate. Fortunato makes a terrific appetizer with asparagus, prosciutto, and a sunny-side-up fried egg. At $24 it’s rather pricy, but well worth it. (The rest of the appetizers range anywhere from $7–30.)

Pastas range from $20–36, but the restaurant will gladly divide an order at no extra charge. My colleague and I shared the duck pappardelle ($24), which was again excellent. Entrées range from $24–38. Crusted blue-fin tuna ($34) didn’t knock my socks off the way the appetizer and pasta did, but it was very solidly executed.

Tables are rather tightly spaced—at least upstairs, where we dined. However, it was not crowded, and there were none of the service issues that one occasionally hears about when this restaurant is busy. Service was polished, if perhaps not quite living up to the elegance of the food.

A couple of years ago, Lidia Bastianich teamed up with Mario Batali to open Del Posto, which was supposed to be the first all-out attempt at creating a four-star Italian restaurant in New York. We all know the story: Del Posto garnered only three stars from Frank Bruni, and many people thought he was being generous. Having now dined at Felidia and Batali’s flagship, Babbo, my sense is that Del Posto was less than the sum of its parts. Babbo and Felidia are the royalty of Italian dining in New York, and Del Posto is their bastard child.

Felidia (243 E. 58th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, East Midtown)

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