This Alto Gives an Unfortunate Performance

alto interior 2


11 East 53rd St


Alto offers a four-course prix fixe dinner ($85) menu Monday through Thursday, from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. A seven-course chef’s tasting menu is available for $130. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and features a three-course prix fixe menu ($38). Diners can also order a la carte for lunch and dinner. Alto is located at 11 East 53rd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Midtown Manhattan. For reservations, contact Alto at 212.308.1099.

New American Food With An Italian Accent

Alto (a reference to “alta cucina,” the term for highly refined Italian cuisine) was designed by partner Vicente Wolf. Alto features a dramatic interior. Decorative, glass-enclosed wine cabinets showcasing thousands of bottles rising to the ceiling flank the restaurant’s western wall; Alto’s extensive wine list is housed beneath the restaurant in a one thousand square foot temperature-controlled cellar. Alto’s rich visual and textural palette is sophisticated, yet accessible, including modern lime-green Italian chairs, muted gray banquettes, titanium bar, frosted glass wall panels, polished steel I-Beams, upholstered silk and finished concrete walls, and both cordovan leather and sheer curtains. Split-level dining consists of an intimate 80-seat main dining room downstairs and a mezzanine above accommodating versatile private dining for parties of eight to twenty-four guests.


In the dining room, sommelier Eric Zillier, formerly of Veritas, offers a wine program that pays fitting tribute to Northern Italian white and red wines as well as a remarkable selection of fairly priced vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy. By working closely with private wine collectors, Zillier develops and oversees Alto’s extensive list of over 2,500 selections, which draws upon the rich variety and unique characteristics of notable wine regions around the world. Zillier’s wine program affords a broad and deep range of red, white and sparkling wines. Rounding out the program is an ambitious selection of specialty cocktails, drawing inspiration from northern Italian ingredients and the flavor combinations of authentic dishes. Featuring fresh-squeezed juices, house-made spirits and seasonal fruits, selections include the Limoncello Cosmo, a twist on the classic made with house-made limoncello and infused lemon vodka; JB Combine, a refreshing blend of gin and fresh basil; Flashlight Cocktail, pairing aperol and aqua di cedro with lime juice; and Amaro Montenegro and Grapefruit. If you scan the list carefully, as we did, you may find a hidden gem, such as a lovely Spanish Priorat for under $60. We suggest you do this. (On our visit, the sommelier only became user- friendly after we discovered it).

Service is benevolent and professional. But at a recent dinner, the kitchen’s performance was less than bravura .

Executive Chef and partner Michael White was a visible presence during our visit. michael white portrai1 V2
Yet he was not concerned (or didn’t notice) that two orders of different pastas were returned to the kitchen, because they were unbearably salty. (Our waiter tasted them and agreed). The excuse given was that the cooking water was over salted. But that couldn’t explain why the play on “Uovo In Raviolo Al Burro Nocciola Tartufato” (Homemade soft egg-yolk filled raviolo with truffled butter), San Domenico’s glorious egg-filled giant raviolo, morphed to “Uovo Di “Bergese” (truffled egg yolk filled raviolo with ricotta and baby spinach green asparagus ragu and parmigiano), was carelessly executed. The egg arrived almost hard boiled, embedded in gummy ricotta cheese.
I’m not sure Osso Buco lends itself to a scaled down portion and a Soft Shell Crab special was leaden: All presentation with no concession to taste. On the other side of the water, a Salmon preparation was quite good.

For a sweet end to the meal, diners can choose from pastry chef Deborah Snyder’s dolci, including Malted Chocolate Tartaletta with malt custard and crème fraîche sorbert; Panna Cotta with rhubarb streusel cake and rhubarb sorbet; Lemon Mouse Semifreddo with Sicilian pistachios and white chocolate cream; Budino, carrot caramel cake with ginger-spice gelato and candied kumquats; and house-made Sorbetti and Gelati with biscotti. Whatever your choice, it will be a high point of the Alto experience.

Alto opened with moments of greatness, despite spottiness. Today, Alto offers more disappointments than pleasures and rates B Minor on the Walman Report.

Copyright 2008 By Punchin International. All Rights Reserved .

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