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Week in Reviews: Alto Finally Gets Three Stars

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There is quite a lot to get through this week, friends. The Bruni kicks us off with his take on Alto and L'Impero, then Richman chimes in on Fiamma and Platt registers his take on Park Avenue Autumn. Then, Meehan finds the best tapas bar in New York, Danyelle "RG" Freeman has more on Fiamma, the Bruni blogs about lunch and Andrea Strong gets the meat sweats. It's all coming at you right here and now.

Kalina: Alto, left; L'Impero, right

1) Frank Bruni files his two-fer on L'Impero and Alto, the two kitchens at which Michael White has just taken over. It's two stars and three stars for the Italian joints, respectively.

Alto is now a full-throttle dining experience, no matter where on the menu you turn. Appetizers? There’s a creamy soup of puréed mushrooms — porcini, cremini, hen-of-the-woods — that’s infused with black truffle and so intensely earthy you find yourself taking joy-prolonging pauses between spoonfuls...

L’Impero is now the restaurant with the more lugubrious air, all of that pleated drapery along the walls evoking the upholstered interior of a very large coffin. A brown and gray-blue color scheme doesn’t provide much spiritual relief.

The pasta dishes — nearly as memorable here as at Alto — do. L’Impero’s answer to Alto’s agnolotti is ravioli filled with ground oxtail and glossed with an oxtail jus. In place of Alto’s garganelli are fusilli sauced with a pork shoulder ragù and melted caciocavallo cheese.

The Bruni's take, which was as expected, puts these two restaurants back into their proper boxes; Alto becomes the more refined of the two, with L'Impero the excellent neighborhood spot, no longer quite the destination that Asimov, who three-starred it, made the place out to be. [NYT]

2) It's Alan Richman's turn to weigh-in on Fiamma, the redone Hanson Italian now with Fabbio Trabocchi as chef. The takeaway, the Soho restaurant is quite good, though in a 'Michelin-Italian' sort of way:

Fiamma does indeed remind me of Italian restaurants, the kind I call Michelin-Italian. The Michelin guide, so clear-cut and knowledgeable about French food, tends to lay waste to other cuisines, and nowhere has it done more harm than in Italy.

Restaurants seeking coveted Michelin stars dress waiters in tuxes. They take grandmothers out of kitchens and put them in nursing homes. They think French, and they perform awkwardly...

Fiamma is somewhat analogous, though it's much more proficient. Maybe the food doesn't look Italian. For sure it doesn't taste Italian. But the place executes well.

Will he be back? "Yes, for the good service, the fine wine and to carry on my adventures in Trabocchi's cuisine." [Bloomberg]

3) And finally, Adam Platt awards two of five stars to Park Avenue Autumn, Michael and Alan Stillman's seasonal switcharoo concept that has, especially, the 20-something ladies of the Upper East Side all atwitter. Platt's not quite as taken with it as they are, and has issues, for example, with chef Koketsu's heavy autumn touch: "perfectly good roast chicken was buried, like Thanksgiving turkey, in cranberry-lemongrass sauce..." But, he doesn't hate it entirely either. To the Scratchpad: "One star for the cooking, and another for the concept. Will we be back in the wintertime? Yes, we will." [NYM]

Elsewhere, Peter Meehan calls West Chelsea's El Quinto Pino 'New York's best, and maybe only, true tapas bar;' Tables for Two is also at El Quinto Pino, where first rate tapas and iPhones are the thing. Danyelle Freeman three stars Fiamma; Paul Adams for the Sun reviews Spitzer's Corner on the Lower East Side of all places, likes it, wishes there was more culinary excitement; Randall Lane for TONY three-of-sixes Alex Urena's Pamplona; Robert Sietsema for the Voice enjoys 'spectacular pastas' as Bocca in the Flatiron; and Ryan Sutton with the early word on Allen & Delancey (cooking 'more exciting than Ramsay's') and Irving Mill (it 'will succeed').

On the blogs, Bruni on lunch at Craft and Jean Georges; Andrea Strong 'good' at new Upper East Side steakhouse T Bar Steak and Lounge; and Scoboco at Spitzer's Corner.