The Cipriani Empire, the restaurant equivalent of the Roman Empire, has made its mark in New York City. With locations in Midtown, Soho and Wall Street, the Cipriani rivals restaurants such as Sant Ambroeus and Casa Lever. Each location (Harry Cipriani, Cipriani Downtown and Cipriani Wall Street) each have something unique to offer. Harry Cipriani is the more formal restaurant. The Cipriani Downtown is more for Manhattan’s socialites who blow air kisses and drink Bellinis at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday and the Cipriani Wall Street is more for the “power lunch” crowd. Being 17 and not an intern on Wall Street I, of course, opted for the chic and oh so fabulous Cipriani Downtown. Going to the Cipriani Downtown is essentially like going to Soho and purchasing a ticket for a two hour trip to Italy. Everything from the elegant tables and chairs to the almost wall length photo collages of photos ranging from Sophia Loren to snap shots of Florence just scream “Italy”. Of course you can’t forget the flamboyant chandelier hanging center stage in the dining room. The space isn’t large so reservations can be hard to come by and for lunch the place tends to get packed all at once (usually around 1 o’clock). So I suppose snagging a 12:30 reservation was perfect. The restaurant packs everyone in so tight that you can often, unintentionally, eavesdrop on other’s conversations. The crowd ranges from the uber chic Manhattan socialites to touristy families from Europe, and both ends of the spectrum come prepared with their Platinum American Express cards. The waitstaff while courteous and never rude, can have a few slip ups once in a while. But then again with about 15 waiters for such a small place, one can understand why it gets so hectic. Originally I had thought that coming to the Cipriani was solely for the scene, but the food was a surprising part of the trip. The fried calamari was superb and the Prosciutto di Parma tasted as if it was just flown in from Italy. As for the entrees, me and my party ordered the Pappardelle alla Bolognese, Penne with Veal Sauce and the Chicken Spezzatino Alla Pizzaiola. At first glance the portions seem small and feeble, but after a few bites you wonder how you’ll finish it all. Certain pasta dishes are made for sharing and others are personal plates. But all tend to be around the same price ($25.95). The Pappardelle was cooked perfectly and the Bolognese sauce was tasty and full of chunks of lamb (which is always a plus). The Penne tasted fantastic as well and was cooked al dente, just to my liking. And of course no Italian meal is complete with out coffee and dessert and the Cipriani Downtown takes care of this with a small plate of cookies for the table, on the house of course. Though the prices may be high, its worth the trip. Some may say the Cipriani Downtown is only good for the scene and ambiance, but I found the food to be pretty good (though I must admit, paying $27.95 for Fried Calamari is a bit absurd. But then again you’re at the Cipriani in Soho not some Italian place in Queens). Be sure to visit this upscale, elegant Italian bistro whether it be for lunch or dinner! [Photo via]
UPDATE (4/27/10): I’ve actually visited the Cipriani Downtown twice since I last wrote my review so I’ll try to sum up both visits. Both were fantastic and fabulous lunches that combined great people watching (the table closest to the window is one of the best seats in the restaurant during warm weather) with great yet pricey Italian food. The penne with veal ragu was great a second time around and the Tagliatelle with Black Squid, though not what I had expected, was pretty good too. For some reason, I don’t really mind spending a minimum of $50 on a one course lunch at this Cipriani outpost as each time I go I’m quite pleased with the food, service and ambiance!