Friday, March 31, 2017

Return to classics: Classic Italian, New York Style

Grilled octopus and classic mozzarella and tomato appetizer

At The Leopard at des Artistes, you get a double flashback: the murals from Cafe des Artistes and the classic Italian food.

Murals at the Leopard at des Artistes
Cafe des Artistes was one of the early Upper West Side destination restaurants and had a curious location, off the lobby of an apartment building, Hotel des Artistes. This was not a hotel, but the apartments didn't have real kitchens, and the artist resident would come down in their pajamas to eat here.
The warm (and dark) bar

Back in the day before you could find decent food before or after a Lincoln Center performance, this is where we'd head. But the restaurant closed suddenly in 2009.

The murals, painted by Howard Chandler Christy, one of the building's residents, were restored when the restaurant reopened as The Leopard at des Artistes in 2011. You probably don't want to bring your kids here; the nude nymphs are not inappropriate, but they will likely elicit giggles and stares from young kids, who are really not the target audience here.

As I said, this is more of a throwback place, with the kind of hushed formality that used to being supreme at New York fine dining establishments. There are plenty of fresh flowers, thick white tablecloths, and waiters who spring over to refueled your napkin if you step away from your table.

Seafood pasta

Throwback prices, too

Luckily, the food matches the ambiance. The tasting menu is a great deal at $50 for three courses; there is also a 3 course wine pairing to accompany it for $30.

And if you dine here on Sundays, you can save money by bringing your own wine.  The bar, by the way, also has a classic, old world feel, with dark wood and martini shakers tinkling.

Meals start with an amuse bouche; usually, arancini, but since these were not vegetarian, we had airy chickpea fritters.

Our special meal - so many courses

We had a special tasting meal to cover a wide swatch of the menu
To start, we shared grilled Spanish octopus with pickled onions and buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes.

Then we had ethereal gnocchi with wild mushrooms, in a butter and sage sauce.

Mushroom gnocchi

Two down, two to go

Whole branzini
We then had a thick pasta with seafood. Or really, a seafood stew with a few strands of thick spaghetti. This is the inverse of the way many people serve pasta, allowing about half a pound a person; here, we had maybe two ounces of pasta and half a pound of seafood.

Then we had a whole branzini, filleted table side (another throwback) and sautéed broccoli rabe. The lemon half had a little mesh cover to keep the seeds out of the fish and of course, it was expertly filleted; not a tiny bone in sight. We could barely eat this (we took it home) and skipped dessert.

I would return to try the chestnut and ricotta semifreddo, the zabaione (whipped table side, another throwback) and the tiramisu.

Note: I was a guest of The Leopard at des Artistes. Opinions and a happily full belly were all my own.

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