New York gets a hollow replica of the original Ago.
377 Greenwich St., at N. Moore St., (212) 925-3797
Dinner, Sun.-Thurs., 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m., Fri. & Sat.,5:30 p.m.-midnight; lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily.
CUISINE Tuscan Italian
VIBE Hip, bustling trattoria
OCCASION Group dinner; Tribeca dining
DON’T-MISS DISH Burrata con fagiolini; eggplant parmigiana
PRICE Dinner, appetizers, $12-$18; entrees, $19-$44; dessert, $10-$12
The New York debut of Ago restaurant in the newly opened Greenwich Hotel had the makings of a summer blockbuster. The famous West Hollywood flagship has long been a powerful magnet for celebrities and movie moguls, including film giants Robert De Niro and the Weinstein brothers, who are partners in the Ago empire. This Tribeca outpost is the fourth offshoot of chef-partner Agostino Sciandri‘s Italian eatery, following expansions in Las Vegas and Miami.
The recruitment of Grayling Design – responsible for such iconic
venues as Balthazar and Pastis – set high expectations for an
impressive, Old World interior. Though the space is detailed with
antique mirrors, vintage farmhouse chairs and terra cotta tiles
imported from Tuscany,
the sprawling setting fails to achieve the warmth or authenticity of an
Italian trattoria. If you’re seated in the rear dining room – worlds
away from the buzz of the bar – you’ll feel as though you’ve been
exiled to Siberia.
My qualms about the vast surroundings temporarily faded when a rich
burrata arrived at our table. It was a creamy mound of mozzarella that
melted blissfully on the tongue. Many Italian classics – eggplant
parmigiana, veal Milanese and fritto misto – make an admirable showing,
and there’s a fine assortment of wood-fired pizzas that taste as good
as they look. The best variation is the “Capricciosa,” topped with
fresh artichokes, black olives and wafer-thin ribbons of ham.
The small dishes in this oversize eatery prove to be the most
reliable. An appetizer of moist baby cuttlefish skewers, ringed in a
savory squid ink sauce, and juniper-smoked swordfish carpaccio both
stand out. There is also a distinguished salad of baby artichokes over
a tangle of frisee, enlivened by a lemon dressing.
But the pasta dishes – a bellwether of any worthwhile Italian
restaurant – charted a much bumpier course. The veal-stuffed spinach
cappelletti arrived in a greasy puddle of butter-sage sauce; the
gnocchi tossed in a lamb ragu tasted like Play-Doh pelted with gravel; a bowl of spaghetti with clams and broccoli rabe was horribly oversalted.
A thick and finely charred rib-eye suffered the same salty fate.
This kind of sloppy execution continued with a disconcertingly gamey
squab served over polenta. Then came an overcooked fillet of salmon
with oily escarole, which my dining companion likened to inedible
banquet food served at a wedding.
The desserts were a collective washout. There was a sorry excuse for
a tiramisu, runny and bombed with cinnamon, as well as a chalky
chocolate tortine glued to the plate by a mucky passionfruit sauce. A
listless apple tart capped off with burnt slivers of almonds was
Didn’t Ago get the memo about New York’s newfound predilection for
modest restaurants with modest prices? This is a big-city restaurant
with prices to match, but there aren’t enough reliable pleasures or
sparks of invention on this tired Italian menu.
Stars may be attached to Ago New York, but in the end it summons
memories of a film franchise in decline: the Part IV you wish you
hadn’t paid to see on the big screen.
Diners would be better off pursuing De Niro’s earlier work – perhaps Nobu, which is conveniently located right down the street.