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“I WAS OBSESSED with the seafood salad,” says a regal woman seated at the sleek bar in her LBD and pearl earrings. “Can you guys make that for me?”
She is referring to a dish that chef Alfred Portale made iconic at the celebrated Gotham Bar & Grill, where he ran the kitchen for more than 30 years. But you won’t find said dish—or the other meticulously stacked plates he made popular—at his first solo endeavor, Portale, where he is hoping to find a new audience. Instead, to familiarize yourself with the nearly three-month-old restaurant, consider the generous serving of fritto misto ($21) teeming with calamari, cod and shrimp, all lightly battered in rice flour.
This fried appetizer exemplifies Portale’s more casual approach to fine dining. While the 7,000-square-foot eatery spans two floors, the intimate downstairs comprises a front room (which includes a 14-seat bar) separated from a main dining room that, with its white oak, brass accents and Calacatta marble, feels like an extension of the nearby West Elm. You won’t find white tablecloths here, but many of the chef’s longtime fans will no doubt be drawn to familiar luxuries like the delicate foie gras tortellini in brodo ($21).
But it’s the half-dozen pastas, each handmade from locally farmed grains milled in the open kitchen, that best showcase the new Portale—both the chef and the restaurant. The bowl of lumache ($28) is faultless: The elbow-shaped dough is covered in a rich white bolognese that’s studded with flecks of short rib and the shavings of fragrant black truffle and Parmigiano. You also can’t go wrong with the spaghetti ai frutti di mare ($28), in which al dente noodle strands mingle with clams, octopus and ruby-red shrimp, subtly spiced with nduja.
In regards to the entrées—like the branzino ($33) atop a bed of squash and the seared duck breast ($38)—everything was expertly executed, but the menu didn’t feel particularly creative. And while the prices were comparable with many downtown hot spots’, they were a few dollars too high to lure in regulars. Still, we could picture ourselves coming back for some of the best pasta in town.