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Elio’s

1621 Second Ave., at 84th St.

(212) 772-2242
Dinner: Mon.-Sun., 5:30 p.m.-midnight
Cuisine: Authentic northern Italian
Vibe: Boisterous, cozy classic
Occassion: Family affair, festive occasion
Don’t Miss Dish: Spaghetti frutti di mare
Price: Appetizers, $8-$17; entrees, $17-$38; desserts, $8-$12
RESERVATIONS Recommended

Some restaurants never change – it’s precisely what people love
about them. Unlike newcomers who bend to the latest culinary whims du
jour, there remain a few steadfast institutions that succeed simply by
resting on their laurels. There is the timeless glamour of lunch at the
Four Seasons and the inimitable nostalgia of a hefty porterhouse at
Peter Luger’s.

Then there’s the charming lure of old-world Italian at Elio’s. Upper
East Siders have been loyal members of this “clubhouse” for nearly 26
years.

With its dark wood paneling and handsome wainscoting, the decor
reinforces the supper club aura. Schoolhouse style light fixtures emit
a golden hue that is bewitching, even romantic. Couples, families and
celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Matt Lauer happily pack into tight tables, simply to bathe in the glow.

Waiters greet with a ritual “Buona sera,” simultaneously tossing a
bread basket and slab of butter onto your table. They’re not big on
formality or technology: Every bill is still tallied by calculator,
every reservation written in pencil. Wine menus are distributed only
upon request – most get their “usual” cocktail or a glass of house red.

And in 26 years, Elio’s northern Italian menu has hardly changed. Why should co-owners Elio Guaitolini and Anne Isaak change a thing when customers can’t seem to get enough?

“We were doing seasonal specials like zucchini blossoms long before
it was fashionable,” says Isaak. “We’ve also been doing spaghetti and
meatballs every Wednesday for nine years. I hear everyone’s doing that
now. Regulars call ahead to reserve 40 or 80 meatballs at a time. Once,
a customer ordered 300.”

These pudgy veal meatballs (six to an order) surface, juicy and
satisfying. Amid a blizzard of newfangled interpretations – foie
gras-stuffed, raisin-studded and egg-capped – their unadorned purity is
worthy of pause.

It’s the sincerity of familiar classics that comes through in the
most compelling dishes: A buffalo mozzarella, firm and yet delicately
sweet, a beef carpaccio with a lively salsa verde, and traditional
clams oreganata – intoxicating and zesty, one of the best in town.

“We were doing seasonal specials like zucchini blossoms long before
it was fashionable,” says Isaak. “We’ve also been doing spaghetti and
meatballs every Wednesday for nine years. I hear everyone’s doing that
now. Regulars call ahead to reserve 40 or 80 meatballs at a time. Once,
a customer ordered 300.”

These pudgy veal meatballs (six to an order) surface, juicy and
satisfying. Amid a blizzard of newfangled interpretations – foie
gras-stuffed, raisin-studded and egg-capped – their unadorned purity is
worthy of pause.

It’s the sincerity of familiar classics that comes through in the
most compelling dishes: A buffalo mozzarella, firm and yet delicately
sweet, a beef carpaccio with a lively salsa verde, and traditional
clams oreganata – intoxicating and zesty, one of the best in town.

Chef Don Pietro Delrey, a fixture in Elio’s kitchen for more than 20
years, renders a wonderfully vibrant tomato sauce – fresh chunks of San
Marzano tomatoes basking in garlic, white wine and olive oil. Its
bright tang enlivens everything from a rapturous medley of frutti di
mare to a housemade fettuccine peppered with tasty bits of pancetta and
onions.

His veteran talents also surface in a deftly cooked veal chop as
well as an exceptional veal piccata – soft medallions doused in an
addictive lemon sauce.

Some dishes fail to please. Such was the case with a chicken
scarpariello, a dish requiring 30 minutes preparation: a gentle puddle
of rosemary, garlic and white wine washed away by the weight of bone-in
hunks of chicken. Similarly, crisp broccoli rabe was tragically
entangled in a snarl of humdrum spaghetti.

Skip the tiramisu, which was served cold and with a heavy-handed
shower of cinnamon. Instead, indulge in a rustic lemon tart, its rich
crust enveloping a pungent lemon curd.

On the heels of a flourishing trattoria trend, Elio’s firmly stands
its ground. Though the prices may seem as upscale as its guests, this
upper East Side meal ticket costs no more than one at the new breed of
restaurants. Besides, many will come and go, but it’s likely Elio’s
will be around for years to come.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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