Heads-up foodie travelers: Il Valentino Osteria on First Avenue, NYC

Up until now, anyone looking for a delicious Italian dinner in Manhattan on First Avenue between 50-60th Streets had a very good chance of experiencing starvation. Hungry for donuts, bagels, coffee, M&Ms – no problem! Walk a few steps and the deepest need for Chinese take-out can be addressed; have a yen for a meatball hero – no problem for pickup, take out or delivery. However, an epicure-level Italian restaurant where the chef needs a skill-set beyond opening a jar of spaghetti sauce and boiling the water for pasta – this area has been a wasteland. I live in the neighborhood so I know what I am writing about.

Finally, the search is over! Enter Il Valentino Osteria. Restaurateur Mirso Lekic and Dan Sehic of C3D Architecture renovated space that is a delightfully casual and open place to dine that is also handicap accessible. A highlight of the dining room is the open brick oven and the yummy smells that come from the fresh pizza crusts baking in the high heat sending out an aroma that delicious on a cold winter evening.

First the Food

The Menu suggests a Tuscan focus but do not look here for strict adherence to a set of rules, the menu is more an exploration of good dining options that makes for good eating. The Consulting Chef, Erminio Conte, formerly associated with Serafina, and Sous Chef, Lauro Sucuz, formerly part of Petaluma and Elios, together with Executive Consulting Chef Erminio Conte (who has a talent for handmade pasta with homemade sauces) have created a restaurant that is both a destination and a neighborhood spot for a week night when the last thing you want to do is make dinner for friends and family.

On a recent evening, a colleague and I started our culinary journey with Polpo all Griglia. The charred baby octopus served with chickpeas and a puree of fennel (a surprise) was absolutely to be treasured morsel by morsel. The small and tender bits of octopus where warm, tender and succulent. The taste of the octopus is so intense that this is a dish easily shared ($17). If cheese is part of your obsession, select the Melanzane Parmigiana that combines layers of baked eggplant with tomatoes and mozzarella ($15).

Moving on to the Secondi Piatti, I selected Cozze (Mussels). These juicy bits of deliciousness were surrounded by a spicy tomato and basil sauce prepared with extra virgin olive oil, a touch of garlic and a splash of white wine and served with crispy French fries. The portion was so huge it could easily be shared – with someone close (oh the garlic)! ($19).

My colleague opted for the Branzino which was the Pesce di Giorno accompanied by roasted potatoes, steamed carrots and broccoli. The delicious entrée was simply prepared with extra virgin olive oil, lemons and parsley.

The menu does offer a wide range of options and the next time I plan on selecting the Agnello Brasato made with braised lamb, Turkish figs, carrots, quinoa and almonds ($28) and the Spacato di Pollo Woodstone which is chicken breast marinated in tomato with potatoes and cooked in a brick oven ($22).

Then the Drinks

No meal is complete without a glass (or two or three of wine) or a beer:

• Wine by the glass

– Pinot Grigio. Giacomo. Delle Venezie, Italy ($10/$39)

Pinot Grigio is planted across northeast Italy (Delle Venezie) and represents one of Italy’s largest exports. The Pinot Grigio available at Il Valentino is made from handpicked grapes, perfect on its own as an aperitif or with light food, with an appealing fruity bouquet with scents of pear juice and banana; in the mouth it is soft, filling, and crisp with a balanced acidity, delicately fruity it offers a long, lingering finish.

• Sauvignon Blanc. Papolle. France ($11/$43)

Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape planted throughout the world. Papolle was established in the 17th century and covers over 135 hectares including 55 hectares of vineyards. The wines from Papolle are powerful and complex and are a perfect way to add another dimension to seafood, white meats and cheese. This Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, unoaked white that is bright and lively with a delicious flavor that leaves a clean finish.

Beers ($6)

• Warsteiner Octoberfest.

A German import, this beer is considered to be well-balanced, mild and smooth with a soft and mild hoppy aftertaste with 5.9 percent alcohol. Brewed especially for Octoberfest celebrations it is a combination of bitter and aroma hops. The brew master uses top-quality brewing barley cultivated from German producing regions and Champagne with optimal climatic and soil conditions. The clear amber color is achieved through a combination of pure ingredients and a gentle and careful brewing process. The water source is Kaiserquelle (Kaiser’s Spring) near the Arnsberg Forest, close to the Waldpark brewery. The water is especially suitable for brewing beer and adds to its wholesomeness.

• IPA (India Pale Ale) Captain Lawrence Brewing Company.

From Elmsford, New York, this beer is noted for its hops and presents as a clear dark golden color with a medium white head that disappears to an outer ring. The aroma suggests citrus, hops and malt with a medium body that bring memories of grassy hops, citrus and bready malt. Look for a mildly bitter finish with a hoppy aftertaste.

• Mermaid Pilsner Coney Island Brewing Company.

Located in Brooklyn, NY this Pilsner is considered to be light-bodied and offers a crisp and nicely hopped beverage. The rye malt adds a mild spiciness that offers a balanced taste experience that is light, fruity and floral.

Next. Make a Reservation for Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Drinks

Whatever the reason, the time of day, or day of the week, go to Il Valentino because:

1. The food is really good.

2. The wine and beer list is small but artful.

3. The room is spacious and excellent for conversation (you actually get to hear what your friends are saying).

4. The service is excellent (ask for Chris).

5. In a good location (across the street from TJ Maxx) and an oasis in the Sutton Place neighborhood.

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