Ladies and gentlemen: As an aspiring food critic, part of my job is to try as many restaurants as possible in New York City (the greatest city on earth). My first concern is that it would cost a great deal of money to do this, which I have been told does not grow on trees. (I was shocked and appalled). However, here is the issue that was on my mind this week: considering that there are just so many restaurants here, how do I try or even know about them all? According to www.menupages.com, a great site where you can read menus for restaurants, there are over 8000 restaurants in New York City! (When I read this I thought I could hear my talking scale and what sarcastic comments it would make after dining at so many restaurants)
I tend to spend a great deal of time doing research about restaurants; after all, it’s the next best thing to dining out. (Ok, maybe delivery and take out are more important than research, but more costly.) While I may not be an expert, I now have a working knowledge of quite a few restaurants, from highly rated ones to local diners and everywhere in between. I was therefore surprised last week when someone told me about a “great Italian restaurant” which I had never heard of before; it also has a high rating in the Zagat’s guide. It seems that many people differ in terms of their definition and opinion of what a great Italian restaurant should be which made me feel a little skeptical at first. I read the menu for the restaurant online and it sounded impressive. Its name is Montebello, which is located in midtown Manhattan on a quiet side street. (Maybe a little too quiet? Seriously, when I walked out of the restaurant after dinner, I wasn’t even sure if I was still in Manhattan.) I would like to present to you my review of Montebello:
120 E. 56th Street
New York, NY
4 stars out of 5 stars
I did my research before dining at Montebello. According to the New York magazine review, you should avoid the prefix, which features traditional Italian food, and instead try more unique dishes. Actually, their quote was “Avoid the suspiciously affordable pre fixe menu, which offers all the dining mediocrity one dreads… Stick to the dinner menu; its popular regional seafood specialties are much better bets. “. My selections were not necessarily “unique”, but they all manifested a flair which differed from many other similar establishments. I ordered minestrone soup: I particularly enjoyed the blend of herbs and spices which were used in this dish, along with the combinations of fresh vegetables, beans, and noodles in a flavorful broth. I will admit that I have tried minestrone soup at a few other restaurants, many of which have been delicious, but this version was particularly full of flavor and large chunks of vegetables.
My next selection may sound traditional, but it turned out to be quite interesting (in a good way. Side note: sometimes I hear the word “interesting” and my immediate thought is: is that a good or a bad thing?). My entrée was Pollo Montebello: Parmesan crusted chicken in a lemon and white wine sauce with broccoli. It should be noted that this is different from chicken Parmesan which features tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. There were a few factors which put this dish over the top: the chicken breast was relatively thick which is not common in such dishes where the chicken is usually flattened. You might think that this would make the chicken either more dry or less tender; however neither was true in this case which made it even better. The Parmesan crust was slightly crispy and tasted as if the cheese was of a high quality and had been aged. (Random note number 2: when I am feeling lazy I use freshdirect.com to order groceries, they sell domestic Parmesan cheese and a 2 year aged version from Italy. I have ordered both and there is a huge difference, so I can definitely detect the quality of the Parmesan cheese at a restaurant) The sauce exhibited a strong fresh lemon flavor which added to the complexity of the dish, and the broccoli was correctly cooked: not too soft but not very crunchy. Overall, this was a perfectly executed entree and I was totally satisfied. Someone at my table also ordered grilled shrimp in a cognac sauce which I sampled and found to be excellent. When cooking with alcohol, it is essential to always reduce it so that you can taste the flavor and not the alcohol itself, and Montebello’s cognac sauce is an excellent example of this.
New York City is home to hundreds of Italian restaurants, which makes it very difficult to determine which ones are the best. However, the next time you are in midtown Manhattan, I would encourage you to try Montebello. Until next time, stay positive: “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” – Helen Keller