So you can’t get to Italy? Try as you might, something always gets in the way, be it a mortgage, a job, your role as the taxi driver for your three kids or the fact that your traveling companions have chosen a different destination (Gasp! Say it isn’t so!). But even if you can’t be there, you want to eat REAL Italian food, not sauce laden meatballs, veal scalloppine and average tiramisù. I cringe when friends want to take me to the “best” Italian place. Call me a snob. I’m ok with that when it comes to Italian cuisine. I know what is fabulous, I know what is possible and I am not willing to compromise. I would prefer a great Thai dinner (which I am sure would make anyone who has spent time in Thailand cringe) rather than a mediocre Italian feast. I have been to Little Italy in New York, the North End in Boston and Federal Hill in Providence and for the most part, I have been unimpressed.
Fortunately, there has been a huge leap in the quality of Italian food here in the States, particularly over the past 10 years. Even Lidia Bastianich, in a recent interview in an Italian newspaper, acknowledged that the American palate has changed and their view of Italian food has become much more refined. While I have not tried the ultra-chic Del Posto, Mario Batali’s place in New York or Danny Meyer’s Mailano, I have found some great places that represent the whole concept and philosophy of true Italian cuisine well. Here is a shortlist of some places to try if you find yourself looking for an Italian meal in an American setting.
Chianti – Saratoga Springs, NY
This restaurant is in my home town and is owned by David Zecchini who moved to this little town in upstate New York from Rome. He knows his stuff and has stayed true to fabulous, Italian cuisine as he has built a little empire of restaurants in the Saratoga area. I was delighted togo there my first time on a trip home. Fabulous wines, the opportunity to speak Italian with the maitre d’ and a menu that actually included wild boar. Heaven! I am equally as fond of his other restaurant Forno Toscano where I dined on a most amazing dish of white beans and shrimp.
Locanda Verde – NYC
Not sure if this made the list because I felt beyond hip when I ate there, but Locanda Verde definitely does lovely things with an Italian touch. The food is more modern but there is still a nod to traditional, but not Americanized, food. Grandma’s Ravioli and the Garlic Roasted Chicken are particularly good. Though I would come for the housemade bar nuts and prosecco alone.
Corsino – NYC
My college roommate is also my authority on all great places in New York City, her home for many years. She is also the hostess with the mostest and spoils us every time we visit with a wonderful itinerary with every detail planned to make our getaway weekend a true delight. I know she was thinking of me last time we were there when she took us to Corsino for lunch. There are few restaurants where I actually consider the possibility of ordering every item on the menu, but Corsino is one of those places. I love the light fare, the fresh ingredients and the casual feel of the dining room. This is a place not to miss when you are in New York. Mille grazie Mimi!
Eataly – NYC
The pizzeria is good, maybe not the best authentic Italian pizza you can find in New York, but definitely tasty and more along the lines of true Italian pizza than most places. The Verdure restaurant is the one that captured my heart on my last visit. I had fried artichokes and a farro salad with seasonal, roasted vegetables. The bonus is that the wines by the glass are also stellar. With branches popping up everywhere, Eataly may be on its way to being overdone but the food is still delicious.
Skappo – New Haven, CT
This is not your normal restaurant. Signor Anna is originally from Assisi and she runs her restaurant as though you are enjoying a meal in her rustic Umbrian kitchen back home. The menu is small, the wine list is good and the feeling is truly one of being in Italy.
I know there are many, many fabulous Italian restaurants in the US. I would love to hear about yours in the comments below.