When my wife and I tried to organize a weekday dinner with a couple she had known for years, I tried to find one of the hot spots in downtown Manhattan not realizing that they were staying in midtown. At the last minute, I had to cancel a reservation for a restaurant in Chinatown area I had been meaning to visit (although I will make sure to visit that place soon) and find a suitable alternative in the last minute. My work is in the Grand Central area where good restaurants are hard to come by. Murray Hill, other than the Indian restaurants on the Curry Hill block, doesn’t offer much either. While searching for a restaurant, I stumbled upon Villa Berulia. It has been around the neighborhood for decades although the reviews were scarce. I couldn’t tell what they offer as an “Italian-Croatian” restaurant but figured the place might be worth a try. In fact, the dinner at Villa Berulia turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
The menu at Villa Berulia is predictable old school Italian with a lot of familiar looking dishes. The difference that they made was in consistent level of execution and being faithful to authentic Italian cuisine. Italian restaurants in America often rely on using strong flavor and fancy ingredients at the expense of showcasing the true identity of Italy’s rich culinary tradition. I learned as much when I traveled to Italy last fall and was genuinely shocked that the seasoning tends to be moderated in dishes there, focusing instead on the freshness of ingredients. While not always perfect, I can tell that Villa Berulia does try to remain faithful to that principle. Mozzarella with sliced tomatoes and roasted red peppers didn’t have bold flavor, but I enjoyed the silky smooth cheese with the fresh vegetables without any additional condiments. The simple crispy calamari also provided wonderful bites.
The best dish of the night in my opinion was the tortellini with light cream Bolognese sauce and mushrooms. The ladies on our table wanted to add cheese on top, but I felt the dish really didn’t need one. It was a rich but not uncomfortably overpowering dish that made me feel like I was dining somewhere at a cozy restaurant in Tuscany. On the other hand, risotto with gorgonzola was a bit too creamy. For entrée, we shared the gigantic broiled double cut king veal chop, apparently the restaurant’s signature dish. It was cooked very nicely medium well and the juicy texture was something to remember. While the seasoning was on the moderate side, I still wished the kitchen decided not to use salt at all because the texture of the meat could’ve even been better. For dessert, I preferred the refreshing key lime cheesecake over tiramisu, which was surprisingly not moist enough.
As noted above, I was able to get a reservation here for a weekday dinner at the last minute and by the time our meal ended around 10 p.m., the dining space was nearly empty. Perhaps this place is a popular spot for weekday lunches by corporate crowds? The wine selections are understandably Italian-centric, and the cozy vibe of the restaurant with inviting attitude of staffs in suits was another pleasant element to our dining experience. In this day and age where people are looking for the next Mario Batali hot spot in the city, Villa Berulia was a welcome break bucking the current trend of foodgasm.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 107 East 34th Street, New York, NY 10016
Telephone: (212) 689-1970