I was somewhat deluded, heading to Cesare Casella's new east side incarnation of his Salumeria Rosi on Amsterdam, thinking it was just a lateral doppleganger of the intimate, affordable westside cafe. No, Il Ristorante is called this for a reason: it is not just a restaurant, it is THE restaurant, and it lives up to its name in each and every imaginable aspect.
The dining room appears like an after-hours benefit gala at The Museum of Natural History, ivory frescoes on wine-tinted backdrops, dimmed lighting and the typical, coiffed and monied upper East side clientele. Here, Cesare is catering to his new address, and not only accomodating it, but embracing it. The price points are triple what they are at Rosi, but it's a completely different format.
The decor is still inspired its predecessor, but gussied up and polished. White tablecloths, crystal chargers and dashing, chivalrous hosts in immaculately fitted Italian suits and snazzy wingtips, Il Ristorante is going to give Del Posto a run for its money. And the food is just as magnificent.
We admittedly ordered judiciously, being prepared more for Rosi's price points than these, but it in no way hindered the experience. Luxury abounds. A squid ink risotto spanned the plate with nubby kernels of inky carnaroli rice, black as sin and glistening. A whole, small octopod loomed atop, tender as a ripe pear and delicately oceanic.
It sided well with an impeccable saute of broccoli rape: it wasn't pooled in oil as is so often the case, nary a mushy floret amongst them. Each stalk was gently slicked and flecked with spicy peperoncini, robustly vegetal with their slight bitter edge.
A lovely dish of seared sea bream showcased two pristine collops against an emerald pool of pureed green vegetables dotted with ceci beans and fragrant, verdant oil. We also tried a contorno of funghi fritti. We erroneously thought we would have preferred them simply sauteed, until they arrived- tiny shiitake caps fairy-dusted in cornmeal, and passed ephemerally though hot oil so as to emerge greaseless, gently crisped, their characteristic umami enhanced by a brilliant green salsa verde, rife with fresh herbs.
Everything we tried, which was admittedly not comprehensive, was write-home-ably outstanding. Dessert was no different, an Italian riff on classic apple pie and cheddar Americana. Here, a buttery-crumbed crostata redolent with spiced apples was accompanied by a vibrant fuji apple sorbet with little jujubes of steamed apple sporting jaunty herb-leaf caps. A mild cheese flavored the cream that stretched languidly across the plate, like a smooth strait beneath an archipelago of appley treasures.
Il Ristorante is Cesare himself. It is gracious and elegant, with glimmers of fancy and debonair insouciance. There is love and passion in this food, but never such seriousness as to warrant a somber formality. The consistency of excellence is as predictable as the sprig of rosemary in his pocket: absolutely guaranteed.
903 Madison Avenue