You can count on your fingers the number of centenarian restaurants operating in New York today and among them, Barbetta is king. Without a doubt it remains the finest Italian eatery in America – serving some of the greatest Northern Italian food anywhere – full stop.
In his book “How Italian Food Conquered the World”, John Mariani postulates that before the consolidation of city-states into a unified Italy in 1860, there was no such thing as “Italian food”. He’s quite correct. Prior to that time, recipes were Sicilian, Neapolitan, Florentine or Piemontese, etc. Even after il Risorgimento, or “The Resurgence” as it is called, cuisine and recipes from the Italian peninsula remained labeled by their regional or local origin. Very few people in Italy refer to their cuisine as Italian, continuing the traditional local branding.
It was really not in Italy, but in New York, at a restaurant called Barbetta that Northern Italian cuisine was born. In an era of mass immigration from Italy to America, Sebastiano Maioglio opened his ristorante in Manhattan’s theatre district, serving Piemonte cuisine to theatre-goers.
At that time, people from various parts of the world came to America, to the great melting pot, where they gave up many of their own traditions to become Americans. It’s no wonder that Maioglio’s restaurant was called “Northern Italian”, as it fit every possible regional cuisine from the Italian peninsula and Americans of Italian descent would feel comfortable dining there.
That set forth a history that today, Laura Maioglio, Sebastiano’s daughter, continues in New York’s oldest Italian restaurant – being ahead of the curve. This is the restaurant that introduced Polenta, Porcini mushrooms, espresso, white truffles, Bagna Cauda and decaffeinated espresso, just to name a few of its firsts.
Taking over in 1962, Laura took over and began using her background in art history to improve her father’s creation. By the 1990’s, she started the trend of reducing sugar in desserts, and lowering the sodium in recipes. Today, it’s dining room stands out as a landmarked beacon of classical Italian interior design, while the menu retains a genteel blending of tradition and contemporary innovation with close ties to its Piemontese roots.
This is not your local Italian trattoria and you will not find Spaghetti and Meatballs on the menu. You will however, find such things as Gnocchetti – petite pastas that melt in the mouth like a soft marshmallow, glazed by a heavenly cream sauce scented with basil and flavored gently with pignoli. Lighter than air, I imagine they need the sauce to keep these round pillows from floating away.
A delicious salad, light and refreshing, cleanses the palate for the next amazing course. This is a tradition coming from Italy, where different courses serve individual purposes.
Barbetta’s award-winning wine list is one of the best in New York, where wine is mother’s milk to gourmets who abound in the city that never sleeps. The extensive selection, which covers a broad range, is complemented by the fine manner in which the wines are cared for and served.
The rack of lamb was out of this world. Prepared and served perfectly, it was a delight to consume every morsel. The dessert – that culmination of all we hope and dream of at the end of our meal was an astounding baked apple filled with sultana raisins. The apple, naturally tinted red on the outside, pale white on the inside combined with the green sultanas embodied the colors of the Italian tricolor flag. More importantly though, it provided a significantly delectable yet not overly sweetened end to my meal.
The dessert cart was full of exciting options and offered a broad range to please any tastes from fresh berries to heavenly chocolate or hazelnut cakes. You will most assuredly find something to truly enjoy from the trolley.
Some have criticized the prices, but they’re ignorant of the premium quality ingredients that go into creating these dishes. Laura ensures that each dish prepared in her kitchens meets her exacting standards – a measure of superior leadership. Is it any wonder that presidents, government leaders and corporate magnates dine there often? Only a month before us Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton enjoyed a meal there together.
Service was absolutely impeccable – with discrete attention paid to guests, leaving them time for privacy and personal conversation. It is no wonder that Barbetta is one of New York’s most romantic eateries. In warmer weather, a romantic outdoor garden provides alfresco dining amid trees, sculptures, flowers and fountain.
Through Barbetta’s door, one enters a completely refined, utterly romantic escape to the best of Italy, without leaving New York. One enjoys superb cuisine, an enjoyable meal, fine music and the warmth of being in the palatial home of an Italian aristocrat. The artistic talent of Laura’s improvement over her father’s original design has made Barbetta one of the most filmed and photographed dining rooms in America. Motion pictures have been made there since the 1950’s and it is frequently featured in fashion or other magazines.
Elegant yet comfortable private dining rooms are also available for private events.
The treasured memory of dining at Barbetta will last you a lifetime. It is something not to be missed as no other can copy its magnificence. Barbetta is the definition of legendary dining.
Barbetta is located on Restaurant Row, West 46th Street; between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, in Manhattan’s Theatre District. Parking is available nearby.
Address: 321 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
Hours: Open 7 days
Lunch: Noon to 2:30pm
PreTheatre and Dinner: 4:00pm to Midnight
Reservations are strongly recommended, call 212-246-9171
All Major Credit Cards accepted