The moment the server at my dining table at Scalinatella brought the menus, he started reciting all the daily specials, which numbered at least ten if I had counted correctly. Such is the experience at Scalinatella, an old-school Italian restaurant at a subterranean space in Upper East Side that has eluded the attention of foodie circles of New York City. The number of daily specials may likely match the number of dishes on the menu. Once you get seated, you get complementary servings of zucchinis and seafood salad dips with lettuce. All the servers, all speaking fluent Italian, are professionally dressed and are ready to go on and on about Italian food tradition if you give them the room. All of these could be seen more like a show than serious commitment to Italian dining, but the good news is that the food at Scalinatella was generally excellent when I visited on a recent Friday evening.
As with typical Italian restaurants, the menu at Scalinatella consists of some appetizers, pastas, main dishes (chickens, veal and fish) and salads, to be followed by desserts. At this restaurant, you shouldn’t be afraid to try all the daily specials that the server would recite. While I would stick to the basics and rely on the four corners of menu books at most places, there is a reason the kitchen has lengthy specials at Scalinatella. For instance, the burrata cheese had that optimal level of moistness that was perfect for the first course, and the simple-looking octopus had the tender texture that was quite satisfying but without too much grease to undermine the texture.
The pastas at Scalinatella may not look fancy compared to other modern Italian places in the city, but I can tell they were prepared with thoughtful execution. I wished the ravioli that came with cheese and herbs came out with a little more modesty in flavor, but I couldn’t otherwise complain about the hearty feel to this dish. On the other hand, linguine with clams was definitely one of the top 5 linguines I’ve had in the city, with firm texture of noodle working wonders with the clams without overpowering level of saltiness that unfortunately too many Italian restaurants commit to.
I wished the lamb chops came out without the sweetness of sauce that accompanied them, but otherwise the texture of lamb was spot on. The grilled branzino, on the other hand, was nearly flawless with awesome texture with simple salt dressing that was just at the right level to really allow the fish itself to shine. For desserts, go with classics like tiramisu, which was quite marvelous with its moistness that I still can’t forget to this day.
Getting a reservation at Scalinatella is not that difficult, but the restaurant was nearly full during the course of our meal so I would still plan ahead and book in advance. There is full bar with some extensive Italian-centric wine list that would complement your meal very well. As described above, Scalinatella does really look like one of the dying breeds of old-school, classic Italian establishments. If you want an authentic Italian dining experience, it is probably one of the best places you can hope for in terms of quality of food and the ambiance of the dining space that just oozes the sense that this place could fit in well anywhere in Italy.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 201 East 61st Street, New York, NY 10065
Telephone: (212) 207-8280