Ever since our trip to Italy last fall, my wife Jun and I have reduced our trips to Italian restaurants in NYC, largely because we got a taste of how Italians cook their own food. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Italians do not really rely on seasoning to dishes but rather rely on the freshness of ingredients; unlike the soulful Italian meals that we’ve had in Tuscany or other places in northern Italy, the Italian restaurants in NYC often rely on a ton of salt and other condiments to create over-the-top and heavy flavor that caters to American diners. We were therefore very satisfied walking out of Emilio’s Ballato after a dinner there on a recent Friday. The restaurant, which has all these photos of celebrities and other famous figures (apparently Rihanna is a huge fan and the former POTUS Obama also stopped by after leaving the White House), seems like a classic tourist trap at first but the food that the kitchen delivered was overall fantastic and was the closest thing to what we’ve had last fall.
In my experience, an Italian restaurant’s worth is often judged at the moment of first appetizer, and the simple caprese salad with mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil was not only fresh but flavored with moderation just the way we had in Cinque Terre. Both pastas that we sampled were also quite delicious. You don’t need a fancy ingredient or technique to do a spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil, but it’s also difficult to pull one like what we’ve had at Emilio’s Ballato that looks simple but also brings a great balance of flavor and perfectly al dente in texture.
Same goes for the tagliatelle with beef, pork and veal Bolognese ragu sauce that doesn’t look much, yet nevertheless offers a hearty satisfaction to your palate without overusing salt. The entrée that we shared, chicken parmigiana topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella, was also very good, with the chicken more or less perfectly battered and fried, and again seasoning was kept at a moderate level and tomato sauce led the flavor department. It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to finish this gigantic dish because we were already very full with two pastas. That didn’t stop us from ordering tiramisu which was just so moist and delightful and almost brought us to the memory of one that we’ve had in Florence.
The restaurant doesn’t take reservations but, despite all its publicity with famous people stopping by, you can expect almost no wait (we were seated immediately on a busy Friday). Choosing a bottle (perhaps a chianti from Tuscany) from the extensive Italian centric wine selection is the way to go to complement your meal. The dining space has that intimate feel that looks somewhat touristy but becomes more and more inviting as you realize that there are actually not many tourists in there. I’m very pleased to finally have made a trip to Emilio’s Ballato and would definitely love to come back for another soulful Italian dinner.
- Creativity: 7.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 55 East Houston Street, New York, NY 10012
Telephone: (212) 274-8881