The tables in the dining room at Fasano are substantial. Large. Round. Heavy. The generous distance between them invites information trading. They anchor you to the handsome space under soaring ceilings amid high-gloss finishes and dampened light pressed against curtained windows. The tables feel important, dressed in pressed white tablecloths. They feel expensive, too, poised to hold unspeakably expensive entrées. That they can’t stand up to those pricey plates is particularly disappointing given Fasano’s otherwise well-executed fine-dining fashion.
This is the more-than-century-old Brazilian hospitality company Fasano Group’s first foray into the U.S. Its titular Italian restaurant, which opened in February, is an exceedingly gracious, polished operation, down to the dedicated bag stools. It all reignites a kind of 1990s vintage midtown richness, at least aesthetically and financially: it is pretty and expensive. The food is mostly both of those things, too, though generally absent the frequently maligned, though marvelous when used sparingly, decadence that often joins those other meanings of the word.
Caviar with the typical accouterment (market price), begins the menu and sets the scene. Grilled octopus to start is a more reliable demonstration of what’s going on in the kitchen. Done well it can come off as effortless: tender, near-sweet and almost inviting a ‘how hard can it be’ home attempt. Done less well, it’s a chewy labor. Fasano’s ($35) falls on the latter end of that spectrum. Curiously blunt knives might easily slice through more successfully finished tentacles, but hack attacks on this one actually rattle that apparently weighty table. Although the density seems to indicate a skipped or hastened step, the flavor, at least, hits pleasantly where expected, and the nicely textured accompanying mashed potatoes lighten it all up a bit.
Things get tough again with the veal Milanese ($69). Although it is impressively presented, enormous and fried with technical perfection, it tastes like little other than that lovely golden exterior crust; failing to gin up any notes other than crunch. It is, at least, not unenjoyable, but the pattern of "at leasts" is pronounced at this price point. It’s also another one that’s a bit rough to cut in places, confoundingly in spite of a much sharper knife and its famously yielding texture.
A few blocks from 30 Rock and with Jack Donaghy style, Fasano makes more sense as an expense account destination. The veal Milanese is eye-catching enough to interrupt conversion with the message, “We value you as a client” and bland enough for any palate. It’s easier to swallow as a high-priced business dinner stunt dish, when a company, rather than an actual person is being relieved of their $69 in exchange for an entrée that lands squarely on fine. The small arugula and cherry tomato side salad it's paired with is less forgivable in any culinary category, indistinguishable from something batched in plastic at an Au Bon Pain. In a hospital.
Fasano’s brighter spots are on its comprehensive pasta list. Veal appears there, too, alongside lobster with fettuccine ($52), porcini mushroom pappardelle ($36) and a delightful ravioli bursting with king crab ($42). The crustacean is notably seaside fresh like a breath of piquant saline air, even under a light cover of a vibrant sauce. It's plated as pretty as a box of spendy wristwatches.
Cocktails are more reasonably priced than expected, given everything else about Fasano. Without the drink list, context clues conjure appraisals of around $25, but they peak at $5 less for a martini that was recently served as an unasked for gibson (though fortunately with the least flavorful pickled onion garnish in existence), $18 for a bright, summery Fitzgerald and $18 for a precisely prepared off-menu Manhattan, up with rye. Wines by the glass start in the teens and, though some bottles reach up to the aspirational hundreds and beyond, a decent number are available below $100. So you can get business drunk in lovely environs and under excellent care for less than the price of a plate of fried veal. At least.
The Vibe: Lovely and grand with polished fine dining operations that function like a symphony.
The Food: Average northern Italian items like veal Milanese and nicer pasta options for above average prices.
The Drinks: Well-executed cocktails, a wide-ranging wine list with glass and bottle options, plus a few beers and a long list of spirits.
Time Out Tip: Fasano has an adjacent, somewhat less expensive osteria up front with its own similar menu.
Fasano is located at 280 Park Avenue. It is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30am-2:30pm and 5pm-10pm.