Il Riccio aims to evoke a seaside trattoria on the Amalfi Coast with its abundance of fresh seafood, and indeed, as soon as you step through the doors, it’s easy to forget you’re on the Upper East Side. The cozy spot is hung with eclectic decor the likes of which might accumulate in a beach cottage after years of happy summers: painted fish trail across sunny yellow walls below plates painted with folk-art depictions of octopuses and the sea urchins that give the restaurant its name. In addition to shrimp, red snapper, and scallops, there are pastas such as housemade ravioli in saffron sauce and a handful of simply prepared chicken and veal dishes, all ready to be paired with Italian wines. Dessert options go far beyond the standard gelato and tiramisu to encompass a wide array of fresh-baked pastries. A fruit tart’s “plump whole berries, crisp, flaky crust, and sweet sugar glaze brings perfect closure” to meals, according to New York magazine. Indulging in this bounty alongside plenty of neighborhood regulars, the Il Riccio staff members say they regularly spot such celebrities as Ralph Lauren, Michael Bloomberg, and Henry Kissinger, rumored to stop in to catch up and slurp a giant bowl of fettuccine together.
With dishes of thick, sage-seasoned veal chops and house-made pasta on its tables, it's no wonder that the dining room at Da Noi gets crowded. The Midtown spot is usually "packed with devotees of solid Northern Italian fare," according to New York Magazine, which also praised the "elegant" wood-paneled dining room.
Da Noi's chefs celebrate the subtleties of Northern Italian cuisine by tirelessly chopping fresh herbs, slicing scarlet-hued beef carpaccio, and sautéing filets of fresh sole in white wine. Da Noi's handmade pasta dishes have turned many first-time diners into regulars, but other enthusiasts return again and again for pasta-free dishes such as grilled chicken livers dressed in a tangy balsamic dressing and served over fresh field greens.
The dessert menu rubs shoulders with the cocktail program at Da Noi, and the results are lavishly indulgent. Bartenders mix and muddle ingredients such as white chocolate and fresh blueberries with potent liqueurs, and decorate shaken martinis with whimsical garnishes. Glasses of silky house-made limoncello present a careful balance of sweet and tart flavors.
Beneath a canopy of red and white fabric, monkeys cross a trapeze, giraffes play instruments, and diners indulge in fine Italian cuisine. Circo takes its name seriously—which is to say, playfully. It was founded by Sirio Maccioni, who founded culinary landmark Le Cirque, and his wife Egidiana, who carried on the family tradition of Italian cooking.
The menu focuses on handmade pastas, pizzas, and secondi of seafood, veal, and chicken, brimming with ingredients and flavors that, though decidedly Italian, won’t be found in your average neighborhood red-sauce joint. Award-winning executive chef, Alfio Longo, creations include: Pyramidal pumpkin agnolotti basks in a brown-butter and amaretto crumble, chestnut pappardelle entwines with muscovy-duck ragu, celery root, and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and smoked salmon and capers dot the creamy base of a white pizza. For added drama, there are platters of red snapper and turbot prepared tableside for two. Filled Tuscan donuts and cannoli with blood-orange sorbet end meals on a note sweeter than a barbershop quartet’s rendition of “That’s Amore.”
Under the leadership of executive chef Salvatore Fraterrigo, Centro Vinoteca's chefs fill diners' tables with revised Italian classics that include seasonal, organic ingredients from local markets, earning the restaurant a feature in the New York Times and in Time Out New York. Originally from the western coast of Sicily, Salvatore Fraterrigo learned to update his favorite Sicilian dishes by incorporating the techniques that he learned while working in kitchens throughout Europe and the United States. Centro Vinoteca also boasts an extensive wine list, which includes bottles from wine regions across Italy. Designed by Thomas Juul-Hansen, the dining room spreads across two levels, with the second floor available for private events or highly publicized marriage proposals. High-backed booths surround the dark wooden tables, french windows flood the space with natural light during the day, and hanging lanterns facilitate shadow-puppet practice at night.
The building known today as Limelight Marketplace has worn many hats. Originally built in 1844 as a gothic-style church, it eventually shed its sacred skin and became The Limelight, a popular club of the 1980s that was frequented by such celebrities as the light bulb used in police-movie interrogation scenes. Scandals forced The Limelight to close its doors, leaving the building barren until its retail transformation in 2009. “We really don’t want to be that associated with the past,” Limelight Marketplace’s developer Jack Menashe told the New York Times. The array of shops and restaurants framed by checkerboard tile floors and dangling chandeliers almost distract from the stained-glass windows and limestone arches of the space's churchly past, but the three-story bazaar exudes a modern, ritzy feel that was never there before. “We wanted that feeling of discovery," says Menashe, "like you’re finding something new and exciting around every corner.”
The rustic Italian cuisine at La Giara takes its inspiration from the food of Italian peasants, which is why the owners chose to name their restaurant after a symbol of the pastoral world—an earthenware jar. For nearly 20 years, the chefs at La Giara have been serving up homemade pastas, pan-roasted fish, and homemade desserts to Murray Hill regulars. The menu features a section of popular dishes, all priced at $16, including porcini mushroom raviolo in butter-truffle sauce, a Kobe–style beef burger with smoked mozzarella, and short ribs braised in red wine over fried polenta. Other dishes include homemade pappardelle in marinated wild boar stew, and pan-roasted salmon in lemon and caper sauce. For dessert, diners can choose from five traditional offerings, such as chocolate and almond flourless cake, mascarpone cheesecake with berry compote, and tiramisu. The restaurant’s décor matches the rustic fare, with stone floors, exposed brick walls, and dark timber beams running the length of the ceiling.