A grand chef’s newest restaurant takes Italian cooking seriously, and comes up with memorable dishes that wow—I’m talking best meatballs and burrata in town.
WHO TO TAKE: A BUSINESS COLLEAGUE TO IMPRESS OR SOMEONE WHO LOVES INTENSE ITALIAN FARE THAT PULLS OUT ALL THE STOPS
This is not your average Italian restaurant. This is the one that creates superlative versions of dishes you know and love. I’ve been here twice and still have yet to have a complete dinner, but am convinced that, judging by the dishes I’ve tried, that it will be spectacular. This chef really focuses on delivering fare that stands apart from the crowd, and that’s saying something in NYC.
Chef Jonathan Benno, took inspiration from classic Roman trattorias. Actually, the name of the restaurant, Leonelli, refers to the inclusion of the lion in Roman history, plus the three lion heads lining the façade of the Evelyn Hotel. You may already be familiar with Benno’s cooking from previous stints at a couple of spots you may have heard of: Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, and French Laundry, among other top notch dining rooms.
The bread arrives in the form of focaccia, imported from the adjoining Leonelli Focacceria & Pasticerria, a bakery and café. Right, the space offers room to breath, with extra-high ceilings, and ample area between the tables. The large U-shaped bar is backed with thin windows of stained glass, and seats plenty. For an enticing pit stop, you needn’t go further than the lobby of the Evelyn Hotel, where you can snack in the lounge on their wonderful stuzzichini, antipasti, and salumi—alongside your favorite aperitivo.
From the Bar Americano section of the menu is a trio of Aperol spritzes. I went with the Bionda, a mix of Breckenridge Blonde, Contratto Bianco Vermouth, Prosecco and Soda. Nice. Right, the gorgeous and light Misticanza Salad came with mixed lettuces and shaved vegetables in a citrus vinaigrette. We paired the light salad with a decadent order of the Chicken Liver Pâté with marsala and pistachios (seen in the photo at the top of this post). They balanced each other perfectly.
I met my friend Peter here for lunch—the place was kind of quiet, and so far, undiscovered. What a treat. I had come here when it first opened for drinks and tried the meatballs, which were absolutely superb, and sitting in a bath of the tomato sauce to die for, with a topping of salty Parmesan. This is a must try.
What topped the BEST list, though, was this ultra creamy Burrata surrounded by a crunchy walnut pesto and sitting in a pool of rapini puree. Even the aftermath is gorgeous. Can I lick the bowl, please?
Dessert was offered to us, and though I was trying not to be too indulgent, I had to have a little taste of each gelato: Pistachio, Yogurt, and Cannoli served with a warm house-made brioche on the side.
Leonelli Taberna, 7 E 27th St (betw 5th/Madison Ave)