BARBETTA - A Secret Garden In Manhattan

Dining out in Manhattan you can easily be spoilt by choice as it is such a melting pot with a diverse culture in the city that will never bore you but to excite your palate, especially when you find some off the beaten track restaurants that deliver not only delicious food with authenticity but also with history and heritage that impresses your entire dining experience. Barbetta has the answer. mylifestylenews writes.

Having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006 and founded in 1906 by Sebastiano Maioglio, Barbetta is now owned by his daughter, Laura Maioglio. It is the oldest restaurant in New York, the oldest Italian restaurant in New York, and the oldest restaurant in New York's Theatre District that is still owned by the family that founded it. This three-fold distinction makes this historic restaurant a landmark among New York restaurants.

Barbetta is a very well-known dining destination in the heart of Manhattan’s Theatre District. Besides, Barbetta also achieved many “Firsts” among many other restaurants in New York City. First Piemontese restaurant in New York (1906), first to serve Risotto, Polenta and wild Porcini mushrooms – picked by Sebastino Maioglio in the Connecticut woods (1906), first imported Espresso machine in a restaurant (1911), first to serve white truffles (1962)…… just to name a few credential that Barbetta had achieved in the past.

As you walk down the sidewalks of Manhattan, facades of building don’t always reveal what is hidden inside, so upon entering this venerable establishment along the restaurant row, you are struck by such a hidden gem with over 100 years and still going strong and that such a delight still exists in the heart of New York City is rather rare, thanks to the persistence from a passionate family that has not shied away from sharing their traditions and heritage to their diners.

The facades of all four of Barbetta’s 1874-1881 townhouses which had developed the deterioration typical of brownstones, are being restored to their original appearance. It has a certain classic style that is undeniably elegant and exudes a wonderful ambience, which is partly due to the fact that it is housed in brownstones bought off the famous Astor family who had built them sparing no expense and embellishing them with magnificent doors and woodwork. Their parlor floors, imposing and patrician, consist of the original dining rooms (Garden Room), library (Wine Library) and drawing rooms (Rose Room & Mirrors Room), each room preserving its original fireplace as well as beautiful paneling and details of the period with a private entrance from the street.

Barbetta is now run and decorated by Sebastino Maioglio’s daughter, Laura Maioglio who is also a collector who used important 18th century Piemontese antiques to evoke a Piemontese palazzo. The great chandelier that hangs in Barbetta’s main dining room obtained from a palazzo in Torino which had belonged to the Savoys, Italy’s royal family as well as the harpsichord, signed Fabbri 1631, in the foyer of the restaurant – an extremely rare instrument which the Metropolitan Museum has requested to be donated to them. The interior of Barbetta has since been landmarked by the Locali Storici d’Italia (Historic Establishment) and cannot be altered in any way. So, classic architecture has influenced the designs put in place by the Maioglio family.

It is rare to be able to dine a restaurant that is especially unique in this modern day and Barbetta was the first Italian restaurant to turn away from the rustic, red-and-white checked tablecloth, Chianti Classico stereotype which we called it the touristy “Mario’s Restaurant” setting but to embrace a grand elegance in décor and a revolutionary concept in 1962.

In 1963, New York born and raised Laura Maioglio had created yet another novelty in Barbetta by adding a garden for open air dining which was a rare thing at that time in Manhattan. This intimate and romantic ‘secret garden” of Barbetta exuberantly verdant with century-old trees, and flowering with scented blooms of magnolia, wisteria, jasmine, oleander and gardenia is one of the city’s most sought-after summer dining venues as well as for private parties and weddings.

We were there on a quiet lunch time, but it was to be fully booked that night and the more there is the merrier, to really give it a sense of occasion. Upon being shown to our table in the main dining room which can be used as a ballroom, Laura had seriously transformed Barbetta in 1962 to create the first elegant Italian restaurant in New York as a backdrop to the cuisine of Piemonte which Barbetta serves. It is no wonder that such an iconic interior and backdrop had attracted filmmakers and TV producers such as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and others to have their movies and TV series filmed for <The Departed>, <Celebrity>, <Sex and The City>, <Mad Men> and so forth as early as in the 1950’s.

Barbetta features the cuisine of Piemonte – Italy’s northwestern-most region, bordering on Switzerland and France and among the first being introduced to the American public to the traditional and refined dishes from Piemonte which was unfamiliar to the Americans at that time. More recent, Piemonte cuisine began an evolution towards even greater elegance and refinement. While Barbetta continues to serve Piemonte’s great traditional dishes, any new dishes added to the menu had to have a distinctive style of their own with identifiable roots and taste. The evolution of Barbetta’s cuisine from its founding in 1906 can be traced through Barbetta’s menu on which by each dish is noted the year it was first served at Barbetta. This menu had been reproduced in two recent books dealing with culinary history and is a collection of dishes representing the past, the present, and the future of Barbetta’s cuisine.

From the menu, it can be seen that traditional Piemontese dishes such as Agnolotti, Risotto, Polenta, Bollito have been served at Barbetta since 1906. When Laura took over in 1962, she was determined to make Barbetta more Piemontese than ever, adding dishes like Fonduta, Carne Cruda, Bagna Cauda, Bue al Barolo, and introducing white truffles and Piemonte’s traditional white truffle dishes that were hunted by her own truffle hounds as at that time white truffles were not available on the America market.

We were quickly offered a most refreshing glass of Ferrari sparkling (who could ask for anything more divine on such a warm day) and we were promptly served a simple amouse bouche of smoked salmon on small rounds of bread that set the tone for simplicity of ingredients with quality.

<Rollatine of imported Piemontese Robiola in grilled Zucchini> (1995)
Such simplicity and yet so delicious. The Italian cottage cheese was so soft and subtle in flavor that it gently awoke the taste buds and had us anticipating what other dishes were to come.

<San Daniele Prosciutto imported from Italy with a fantasy of Melons> (2003)
The prosciutto had a great colour and depth of flavor and the melon balls were so sweet. A very generous portion of prosciutto comes with a very appetizing presentation.

<Fresh Mushrooms alla Schobert - Marinated in Olive Oil> (1962)

This simple dish was food of the forest, with aromas to take you somewhere exotic in a European forest.

<White in White Salad – Jicama, radish, white turnip and hearts of celery> (2009)
What a stunning salad this is. Jicama is a root vegetable and with all ingredients combined, the chef has created a very fresh flavor that has a lot of depth, thanks to each ingredient having quite a strong character. This is also the perfect dish for a summers day.

<Gnocchetti ai formaggi Piemontesi> (2001)
As the name suggests, small gnocchi balls that were stuffed with cheese and in a cheese sauce that made this pasta dish divine. This is perhaps the lightest gnocchi we had tasted before and it was a revelation, not to mention the cheese was not overly rich, but the perfect accompaniment for the gnocchetti.

<Risotto alla Piemontese with wild Porcini mushrooms> (1906)
This is always a classic dish, but in the wrong hands can be a big disappointment, but not at Barbetta’s! A superbly balanced dish of perfectly cooked risotto that was redolent of the forest floor due to the aromatic and tasty mushrooms. Every morsel was devoured with pleasure.

<Maine Diver Scallops capped with a julienned Yukon potato crust, over a tasty fresh tomato herbs sauce and baby Bok Choi> (1998)
The scallops were quite large and tasted so fresh and sweet, plus the light Yukon potato crust added another textural dimension in the mouth. Additionally, the presentation of this dish was another spot on.

<Roasted rabbit alla Piemontese in a white wine-lemon sauce with Savoy cabbage> (1995)
Italians are experts at creating a superb dining experience with rabbit meat and this was a standout dish. The rabbit was moist and tender, and the sauce was the perfect foil for the richness of the meat.

<Lemon and Pistachio Tart> (1998)
Perfectly balanced flavours and each ingredient was true to its source. Such a delightful dessert that is hard to beat when made to such perfection.

<Gianduja Chocolate Cake> (2009)
The Maître d’Hotel insisted we also try this dessert and we were so pleased he did, as this was a standout. What richness, but without too much sweetness with the basic dark chocolate ingredient that we found irresistible.

<Mousse of Orange Bittersweet Chocolate> (2008)
A heart shape mousse was presented. Fluffy and airy texture in rich chocolate flavor enhanced by the zesty orange on each bite. A must order!

We were completely blown away by the generosity and warmth in the service, quality of ingredients, presentation of the food and overall ambience and experience. The Maître d’Hotel, Shahin Ahmed, is the perfect host to look after every question and offer suggestions. While a team concept created by Laura since 2004 with a team of highly accomplished chefs individually responsible for the dishes each one makes best and following Laura’s philosophy every new and old dish must meet certain requirements, it is her persistence that has made this work.

Barbetta is surely a special dining experience that resonated with us and reminded us that food should be prepared in a simple way to let the flavours and quality of ingredients speak for themselves and in such talented hands from this kitchen, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. An absolute must visit when you are in New York especially for pre or post Theatre meals!

Tried & Tested:
Location: 5/5
Design & Decor: 5/5
Food & Beverage: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Value For Money: 5/5
Experience: 5/5

Interior & Piemontese Cuisine

321 W 46th St, New York, 
Tel: +1 212 246 9171

Reviews are based on actual day of visit and experience. mylifestylenews reserves the right of final decision in case of any disputes. All images are photographed by mylifestylenews team without any photoshop enhancement and are the property owned by mylifestylenews unless otherwise stated. 


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