Italian gastronomy from Fasano to New York


The tables in Fasano’s dining room are substantial. Big. Round. Heavy. The generous distance that separates them invites the exchange of information. They ground you in the beautiful space under soaring ceilings amid gleaming finishes and soft light pressed against curtained windows. The tables feel important, dressed in white ironed tablecloths. They feel pricey too, ready to hold insanely expensive entrees. The fact that they can’t resist these expensive plates is especially disappointing given Fasano’s otherwise well-executed fine dining fashion.

This is the first foray of the more than a century-old Brazilian hotel company Fasano Group into the United States. Its titular Italian restaurant, which opened in February, is an extremely gracious and polite operation, right down to the dedicated bag stools. All of this revives a kind of vintage richness of the city center of the 1990s, at least aesthetically and financially: it’s pretty and expensive. Food is mostly both of those things, though generally absent from the oft-maligned decadence, though wonderful when used sparingly, which often ties in with these other meanings of the word.

The typical caviar (market price) begins the menu and sets the scene. Grilled octopus to start is a more reliable demonstration of what’s going on in the kitchen. Done right, it can seem effortless: tender, almost soft, and almost inviting a hard “how can that be” house attempt. Done less well, it’s a chewy job. Fasano ($35) is at the latter end of this spectrum. Oddly enough, dull knives could easily slice through finite tentacles more successfully, but the hacking attacks on this one actually shake that seemingly heavy table. Although the density seems to indicate a skipped or accelerated step, the flavor, at least, pleasantly hits where expected, and the nicely textured mashed potatoes that come with it lighten things up a bit.

It gets even tougher with the veal Milanese ($69). Although it’s impressively presented, huge, and fried with technical perfection, it looks like nothing but that lovely golden outer crust; failing to shell notes other than crunch. It is, at least, not unpleasant, but the scheme of “at least” is pronounced at this price level. It’s also another that’s a little rough to cut in places, confusing despite having a much sharper knife and texture that’s renowned for yielding.

A few blocks from 30 Rock and with Jack Donaghy style, Fasano makes more sense as an expense account destination. The veal Milanese is eye-catching enough to interrupt conversion with the message “We appreciate you as a customer” and bland enough for all palates. It’s easier to swallow like a high-priced business dinner dish, when a company, rather than an actual person, is relieved of their $69 in exchange for a downright well-turned entrée. The little side salad of arugula and cherry tomatoes it’s paired with is less forgivable in any culinary category, indistinguishable from something plastic in an Au Bon Pain. In a hospital.

Fasano’s brightest spots are on its extensive pasta list. Veal is also featured, alongside lobster with fettuccine ($52), pappardelle with porcini mushrooms ($36) and a delicious ravioli stuffed with king crab ($42). The shellfish is notably seaside-fresh like a pungent breath of salty air, even under a light blanket of a vibrant sauce. It is plated as pretty as a box of expensive wristwatches.

Cocktails are more reasonably priced than expected considering all things Fasano. Without the drinks list, context clues suggest ratings of around $25, but they top out at $5 less for a martini that was recently served as an unrequested gibson (albeit thankfully with the onion garnish tastiest marinade there is), $18 for a brilliant, summery Fitzgerald and $18 for a precision-crafted off-menu Manhattan with rye. Wines by the glass start in the teenage years, and while some bottles reach aspirational hundreds and beyond, a decent number are available below $100. So you can get drunk in lovely surroundings and with excellent care for less than the price of a plate of fried veal. At least.

Vitals

The atmosphere: Charming and grand with fine dining operations that work like a symphony.

The food: Average northern Italian items like veal Milanese and nicer pasta options at above average prices.

The drinks: Well-executed cocktails, an extensive wine list with glass and bottle options, plus a few beers and a long list of spirits.

Timing Tip: Fasano has an adjacent, slightly cheaper osteria with its own similar menu.

Fasano is located at 280 Park Avenue. It is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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