By PK Greenfield
Just a block away from Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is a welcome come-back of a restaurant space that has graced the neighborhood for decades. The Leopard at des Artistes is now under the leadership of Gianfranco and Paola Sorrentino as well as Executive Chef, Vito Gnazzo — expect a dining experience that is elevated to Italian nirvana. The Leopard is apparently the cat’s meow for locals and this month they put another arrow in Cupid’s quiver.
Rich in history, the mural series of “Fantasy Scenes with Naked Beauties”, by Howard Chandler Christy, were painted in the end of 1920s, and completed by 1935, when Christy lived in New York City and had his studio at the Hotel des Artistes above the restaurant. This landmark building was originated for the tenants of the hotel who did not have kitchens. Today, the murals still grace the walls while the Southern Italian fare draws an insular group of opera, dance, theatre professionals as well as trust-fund babies and smattering of broadcasting clientele. We entered the nostalgic room on 67th Street, the omnipresent manager, Henry Nekrasov, greeted us graciously; we then joined the bustling dining room after a quick cocktail — many of the clientele strive to relive the go-go ‘80s. They succeed. The Leopard chuffs while hungry city dwellers file in from performing arts Green Rooms and subscription seats at The Met. The place is a busy bacchanalia even on relatively slow nights.
The original bar has been moved to the rear of the restaurant in an attractive and backlit intimate space. I recommend you start off the evening with their signature Negroni — a refreshing libation consisting of Gin, Campari and Carpano Antica. Garnished with a slice of orange, this beverage wets the whistle with a kick. Following are several suggestions for date night or dining out anytime at The Leopard at des Artistes. Chef Gnazzo offers daily specials and has prepared a Valentine’s Day Menu, “All you need is love.”
While the amuse-bouche was nothing to write home about, it was all uphill afterwards. Antipasti include a seasonal salad (above) made with fennel, orange, grapefruit and Castelvetrano olives, on organic frisée salad with extra virgin olive oil and lemon dressing. I also recommend the Grilled Octopus with heart of escarole salad, celery, Castelvetrano olives, pickled onions, extra virgin olive oil and lemon dressing. For Valentine’s Day, the chef is offering a King crab salad with blood oranges, pickled onions and olives as well as Prince Edward Island mussel soup with Sardinian fregola.
The fresh pasta selection truly demonstrates the chef’s talent of pasta dishes from several regions of “the boot.” For the holiday you can select the “Pennete alla Norcina” — Italian sweet sausage and winter truffles, finished with mascarpone cheese or the Risotto with organic asparagus tips and shrimp ragout.
Selections for Secondi on the 14th include a broiled Mediterranean Branzino served with baby Brussels sprouts or Pan Seared Veal Medallion with wild fennel pollen, served with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes. During this visit we wisely chose the entrée at Mr. Nekrasov’s suggestion: The Sullivan County Duck Breast (above) was beautifully presented and cooked to perfection — prepared with fennel pollen, cipollini with aged balsamic vinegar, pickled raisins and vegetable caponata. Succulent and appetizingly served with a combination of perfectly balanced flavors. This dish alone was well worth the visit.
My sweet tooth was not so much sated by the Traditional torta di mascarpone “tiramisu” style or the Nutella chocolate mousse served on hazelnut crunch and banana gelato. However, my dinner date seemed to enjoy them. Cupid can be fickle. For Valentine’s Day they feature a Strawberry Mousse with chocolate sauce.
The wine list is very extensive. Your server or Mr. Nekrasov will help you select the perfect wine pairings.
The Leopard at des Artistes
1 67th Street
New York, NY