I am a Yelper – I can’t help myself – so when I was invited to come to Nello for lunch, I was not sure if I wanted to go. The reviews were horrible. But in this instance, I learned my lesson: Do not always side with Yelp. Sometimes you have to give it a chance or see it from the another side.
I decided to go to Nello to see what all the fuss was about. Nello is supposedly the place to be seen in this town and the price was to be outrageous and the food subpar. Yes, the prices are VERY high, but everything else seems to be something that was part of a feather becomes 10 chickens kinda thing. Nello is now solely owned by restaurateur Thomas Makkos and has improved vastly since the recent update.
Having traveled Italy, having spent time in the kitchen (a lot of time in the kitchen), and having dined at some of the better Italian restaurants across Europe and New York, I would have to say the food is most definitely far from subpar. It is great classic Italian food that is made how the Italian mom would make it.
It is not fancy Noma dishes but just simple, tasty Italian dishes.
Let me first describe the food that we ordered and how it tasted. We were lucky enough to be able to do it the right Italian way with seven small courses. Our first course was the Tagliolini with Black Summer truffles. This was probably my favorite dish of the day. The pasta was cooked to perfection, the sauce was just right. Not so much that you could see it runny in the bottom, but not so little that could not taste it between the pasta and the truffles. The truffles were amazing, they gave the dish that umpf that you want from a simple dish like Tagliolini with a creamy sauce.
The second course was the Lobster Ravioli, probably the simplest dish on the menu. Ravioli with lobster with nothing else but a simple tomato sauce on top. It was good and the pasta was cooked perfectly – but unless it is one of the better lobsters in the world such as the Forchu, then I am not a fan.
The third dish was the Calamaretti, normally a dish that is reserved for their entrée page, but the service was so amazing that we got whatever we wished for. Mind you, this for every table not just ours. I am not a squid person so the seafood mash inside was a bit too “seafoodie” for me, but my husband loved it. He loves food that has a bit of seafood flavor.
The fourth dish we had the Langoustines. My husband is not as avid in the kitchen as I am so he was wondering what a Langoustine was: it is something that you normally only eat when close to the Mediterranean sea. This was my second favorite dish. The langoustine was fresh, with a ton of flavor from its own meat juices and the herbed butter it had been cooked with. It was simple and delicious. This was a dish that the waiter told us we needed to try and I am so happy he did. It put a smile on my face.
The fifth course was the Saltimboca. It is veal scaloppini saltati with baby artichokes, prosciutto and wild mushrooms. And if anything is classic Italian, this is. As my husband says, “You can’t call yourself an Italian restaurant if you can’t cook veal right.” From what I tasted, Nello can call itself an Italian restaurant. The veal was cooked perfectly and the sauce, I need that recipe! Or maybe not, since I might make it too often and end up 100 pounds heavier.
The sixth course was the Dover Sole. It is a flat fish mostly eaten in Europe and I grew up with this kind of flatfish. Flatfish, believe it or no,t is really hard to cook right. It is so easy to overcook it as it is so thin, but Nello nailed it.
Our last course was desserts. I think my husband and the waiter went a little overboard selecting the desserts. We had the mille-feuille or Napoleon if you will, the ricotta Cheese cake, the pistachio gelato, the strawberry sorbet, and of course, the Tiramisu. Again, you can’t call yourself an Italian restaurant if you can’t make a Tiramisu. The Tiramisu passed the test, but by favorite by far was the strawberry sorbet and their mille-feuille.
I am running out of space, but I am glad I went and learned not always to trust Yelp, as restaurants change and evolve overtime. The service at Nello was impeccable and people in the restaurant seemed to enjoy themselves. Even if guests wanted something off the menu, it was not a problem for them. Though they could do away with the classic “show the desserts on a tray,” since the desserts on the tray did not do the real thing justice and could look a little off-putting. I know it is a classic Italian thing to do, but you can skip that like you add Napoleons to your desserts.
696 Madison Avenue
btw. 62nd and 63rd Streets
Photos via Nello and by Socially Superlative