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Tagliolini with truffles, butter, and truffle oil

[From the slide show that accompanies the review, with photographs by Daniel Krieger.]

It’s always fun to read a negative review by a good writer. Sam Sifton’s NYT review two days ago of Nello (on Madison between 62nd and 63rd) is a superb example of the genre. One sample:

Nello, which opened in 1992, is an ecosystem that is almost incomprehensible to those not a part of it. The food is not very good. Yet the restaurant’s customer base is built of the richest and most coddled people in the city, who love it for its elegance and, perhaps, simplicity.

It is a private club of sorts, where the dues are paid nightly. The meetings are unadvertised. Nello’s dining room can be crowded at 3 p.m. or midnight. It can also be empty at 1 p.m. or 9 p.m. Regular patrons respond to whistles mere customers cannot hear.

The table of four that night was made up of that latter group: New Yorkers relatively new to the restaurant, unknown to the management.

They ate crisp artichokes offered as carciofi alla giudia. These tasted of shirt cardboard. They ate sawdusty chicken livers lashed with balsamic. They sipped at lentil soup familiar to anyone who owns a can opener and shared too-salty saffron risotto, correctly yellow, of no particular flavor.

The patrons come in for as much ridicule as the restaurant itself.

One night at dinner, there was a very tall woman in elegant clothes, with skin stretched tight over her face in unnatural ways and glasses the size of salad plates to magnify that. She was eating with a small red-faced fellow with dark hair in a center part, who was wearing an ascot and green Tyrolean coat. A cartoonist might render them as an awkward French giraffe and a mischievous Austrian chimp.

The overall rating is “Fair”, which is a level below one star. The summary judgment on atmosphere is “oligarchic chic”; the sound level is “a low buzz of self-satisfaction [that] rises into occasional peals of self-delighted laughter.” I don’t know how fair the review of the restaurant is, but it’s surely overly harsh on the clientele. Anyway, have a look. And if you dine there, let me know how it is.

Categories: Restaurants, Writing
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