Entries in Novitá (3)



I must have walked by Novitá dozens of times, over the years, but it never actually registered until after Sam Sifton upgraded it to two stars in February (it previously had one from Ruth Reichl). The city is full of places like that — decent neighborhood restaurants that get zero media coverage, that you walk by on the way to someplace else without a second thought.

Sifton’s argument for awarding two stars was exceptionally weak — by which I mean that, even taking him at his word, it made little sense. Pasta is “excellent . . . a rejoinder to low expectations.” “[T]he plates are food, not art,” the chef makes a great prosciutto with melon, and “Main courses are less successful.”

It is, in other words, one of a hundred mostly interchangeable Italian restaurants in our fair city.


Gramigna alla carbonara ($14.50; above left), a concoction of macaroni with eggs, pecorino romano, guanciale and black pepper, was probably the best thing we tried, lustily flavored and amply portioned. Eggplant Parmigiana ($15; above right) was just fine, but it is fine at lots of other places.


The kitchen did well by a whole Branzino ($29; above left). Very few restaurants serve a pounded Veal Chop ($29; above right) on the bone, but one couldn’t avoid thinking that it was a preparation designed to bury mediocre product in a blaze of cheese and tomato.

On OpenTable, Novità is flagged as “romantic,” and that’s a mistake. The room is attractive, but it is too crowded, the tables too tightly packed, the service too impersonal. At prime times, you’ll feel like you’re dining in front of an audience: there is no waiting space for unseated parties, so they just line the edge of the room until a table frees up.

The restaurant was full on a Thursday evening, probably not due to Sifton’s review, but simply because the neighborhood is glad to have it. The waiter recites a long list of specials, which irritates the neophyte, but if you’re a regular it means there is always something new to try. Though not exactly inexpensive, it’s a fair deal given the size of the portions; the food, if unoriginal and unspectacular, is a step up from generic sidewalk Italian.

Novitá (102 E. 22nd Street, east of Park Avenue, Gramercy)

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


Review Recap: Novitá

Today, Sam Sifton blows a two-star kiss at Novitá, a restaurant largely ignored by the city’s foodistas since it opened in 1994:

Novitá is a designer shoe box of a restaurant around the corner from Gramercy Park, a basement room on East 22nd Street, a perfect neighborhood trattoria.

It has excellent pasta. In any other metropolis in North America, it would be well known among that city’s best places to eat. In many cities, it would sit atop the heap.

But in New York, a lot of people have never heard of the place. (How cool is that?) This is testament to the strength of our restaurant scene, to the sheer abundance of good restaurants here. And Novitá is a very good restaurant.

This felt like a “Bruni two,” reminding one of all the forgettable restaurants that won two stars from Sifton’s predecessor: “Main courses are less successful, though by no means off-putting.” He also notes that it is less “fussy” than before: “plates are food, not art.” Bruni could have ghost-written this review. Novitá may well deserve its deuce, but the review reads like that.

We had guessed that Sifton would not bother reviewing this place unless he were upgrading Ruth Reichl’s original one-star rating, and we are rewarded with $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bet, while Eater loses a dollar. 

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $9.00   $13.00
Gain/Loss –1.00   +3.00
Total $8.00   $16.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 7–7

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 78–33 (70%).


Review Preview: Novita

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton reviews the Gramercy Italian standout, Novita. The Eater oddsmakers have set the betting line as follows: Goose Egg: 500–1; One Star: 2–1 ; Two Stars 3–1; Three Stars: 250–1.

We agree with Eater that neither the goose egg nor the trifecta is likely. The Times doesn’t pick restaurants out of nowhere, only to trash them. And we also subscribe to the view that three-star restaurants do not hide in plain sight. That leaves one and two as the only remotely possible outcomes.

Ruth Reichl awarded one star to Novita fifteen years ago. There are many, many restaurants that have gotten a star in the Times and were never reviewed again. With the vast majority of reviews being given to new places or old ones where a substantial change has taken place, Times critics don’t have much time for re-reviewing run-of-the-mill one-star places, only for the purpose of re-affirming the original rating.

It could be, of course, that Novita is simply one of Sifty’s old stand-bys, and he is happy to spend one of his precious review slots to bump it up on the radar screen without claiming that anything significant has changed since Reichl reviewed it. A one-star review therefore would not shock us.

But as we must make a guess, we think that Sifton would not review this place without upgrading it. Therefore, we predict that he will award two stars to Novita.