A mission for my East side colleague and me, an Upper Westsider, is to find unpretentious restaurants that serve good food. Il Valentino Osteria at 59th and First Avenue (the street number is 1078) is such a place. The atmosphere and casual décor is warm and inviting, made more so by the open brick oven, from which is produced homemade, delicious bread and pizza.
Elinor and I met for dinner at Il Valentino Osteria one evening, despite the snow and slush of the NY storm. Seated promptly, I ordered a glass of Chenin Blanc, a nicely balanced crisp wine, with a light bouquet and notes of apple, pear and grass. Wines by glass here are $10 to $11, prosecco is $12.
Tuscan cooking has its roots in “cucina povera” — peasant cooking, simple cuisine, without reductions or fancy sauces. Additionally, Tuscany is known for its olive groves and wild herbs. Many of the best olive oils are reserved for use as a condiment at the table. We both had a generous nibble of bread dipped in the delicious oil while looking over the menu.
At first it was difficult to make a choice, however, we decided to share the Polpo alla Griglia, charred baby octopus served over chickpea stew and fennel puree. The octopus was tender and had a delicate smoky flavor that matched the portion of chickpea stew and fennel puree beneath it.
We skipped the salad and pasta courses in favor of the entree. I ordered the special of the day: branzino (European seabass), which was beautifully skinned, boned and served with a roasted potato and steamed carrots and broccoli.
Lightly browned, the fish was tender yet firm. The roasted potato was like my grandmother’s – browned, flavorful with a slight nut-like taste and not over salted. Elinor ordered the mussels — a plate full of the mollusks swimming in their broth — accompanied by bread to make a scarpetta (literally a little shoe) to soak up the broth. The fries were thin and perfectly prepared.
Looking over the Breakfast/brunch/lunch menu, I saw that the pizza are made with fresh, homemade ingredients. Prices range from $16 for a Margherita pizza to $26 for a Truffle pizza, made with black truffles, truffle oil, fontina and ricotta cheeses and topped with fresh mozzarella cheese. Pizza is also featured on the dinner menu as well.
Organic eggs are used for the egg platters, pancakes and French toast. Salads are made with organic mesclun or romaine and paired with cheeses that complement the lettuce and dressing. The I carpacci (paper thin slices of raw beef) comes with a choice of arugula or artichokes and parmigiano and avocado and palm hearts and the prosciutto di Parma is topped with salami and a variety of olives. Sandwiches, paninis and burgers are available as are a variety of antipasti, homemade soups, homemade pastas and secondi piatti. The menu is available from 10 am to 4 pm.
The original location of Il Valentino was located in the Sutton Hotel, where celebrities, business impresarios, and political figures were frequent visitors. Restauranteur Mirso Lekic renovated Il Valentino Osteria to resemble it. Contrasting wood tables and bar stools, metal chairs and a leather banquette added elegance to this Tuscan-style restaurant. The resemblance to the original doesn’t stop there. Il Valentino Osteria is living up to its reputation as an exceptional place to dine. (tel: 212-784-0800, ilvalentinonyc.com)