The Glamorous New Sartiano’s Shows There’s No Surfeit Of fine Italian Restaurants In New York

Set foot any night of the week in the new Sartiano, a subterranean Soho Italian restaurant in the Mercer Hotel and you will be disabused of the current media’s imbecile claim that “no one wants to eat like this anymore.” Truth is, Sartiano, like many upscale restaurants, will be packed, even on a late summer weeknight. Given its shadowy, flickering, sexy lighting, roomy booths, excellent brickwork, a 20-foot bar of Carrara marble and a pink Himalayan salt display, you might think it would attract a fickle, transitory glam crowd—the staff itself is dressed in blue sharkskin suits with navy satin lapels. Maybe so, but once tasted, the food is what brings people back to this vibrant restaurant that seems to define what fine dining has evolved into being in 2023.

This is a project of Bond Hospitality, and its founder, Neapolitan-born architect Scott Sartiano, had the good sense to hire Alfred Portale as culinary director, along with Executive Chef Chris Lewnes. Portale is one of New York’s most respected chefs among peers, having established Gotham Bar and Grill in 1984 as among the city’s finest restaurants for thirty-five years. His mastery of technique comes from stints with Michel Guérard, the Troisgros brothers and Jacques Maximin, and he is author of three cookbooks. After leaving Gotham, he opened his own very successful Portale restaurant four years ago.

Sartiano’s is, like every new restaurant these days, very loud, and there’s no reason to pipe in throbbing techno music. The service staff is genial, and sommelier David Vannatter is an exuberant fellow who loves telling you about the wines he chooses (if you wish) and why they are special to the impressive, mostly Italian list.

The breads and focaccia with whipped ricotta ($10) are excellent, and, at the top of the menu, a cannoli filled with mascarpone cheese, chives and Pacific Northwest white sturgeon roe ($48) sets a style of what’s to follow, like the silky crudo of yellowfin with lemon, basil and crispy farro grain ($28).

A fritto misto of calamari, rock shrimp, zucchini and fennel ($26) is as light and good here as at Portale, as are the hearty meatballs with ricotta and velvety Parmigiano fonduta to be scooped up with crostini ($21).

How, then, in a city of so many superb Italian restaurants, does Sartiano’s differ? It doesn’t need to because it simply competes with the very best; you needn’t get wildly creative when you’ve perfected pastas like the paccheri with meatballs, sausage and short ribs, standing like the pillars supporting Venice, The dish is $64, but, believe me, a party of four can enjoy this as a primi course. Agnolotti are stuffed with buffalo milk ricotta and dressed with a simple but first-rate tomato and basil sauce ($29). I did find that one evening’s 12-leyer lasagna was a bit dry ($29).

There are several steak cuts here, and while I am not much of a fan of wagyu, which is so often too much fat and too little lean, the Australian wagyu zabuton, cut from the outer side of the chuck eye roll, was superb; rich, to be sure, but also with a fine beef flavor, and at $68 for ten ounces, about the same as you’d pay for a NY strip or ribeye elsewhere. Veal milanese, at $75, was a steep price, although it had flavor and the right crispiness of breading. Branzino was impeccably cooked. Dover sole is served piccata ($68) in a rollatine of thin slices.

Desserts ($15) are quite traditional but done with true refinement: You’ll enjoy the fruited panna cotta with a crisp caramel crust, the individual tiramisù and especially the six big, tender bomboloni.

I long ago gave up any thought of there being a surfeit of Italian restaurants in New York because it has always been a city foremost for its Italian food, and, while menus are similar—as they are in Italy—the stye, décor, hospitality and the flair of the chef make the best of the new entries much sought out and appealing. Sartiano’s adds measurably to that landscape with a striking décor, excellent cuisine in generous portions and the Italian vitality that makes eating out a joy.


Mercer Hotel

99 Prince Street


Open for breakfast and dinner daily, for lunch Mon.-Fri., for brunch Sat. & Sun.

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