Words By Jonny Grave, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
It’s small, but that only reflects on the simplicity of the menu.
Alta Strada is the newest creation from Chef Michael Schlow. It’s a 75-seat restaurant with an impressive, yet humble menu, and a formidable but not exaggerated wine list. In other words, upon walking in the door, it doesn’t look or feel like they’re compensating for anything. After your first bite, of the grilled octopus, it’s evident they don’t have to.
Italian restaurants are tough to get off the ground. There are two main avenues of Italian fare in the States: borderline fanaticism with traditional Italian recipes, or avant-garde, and deliriously hip dishes trying to improve on the classics. Happily, Alta Strada chooses neither.
Yes, Chef Schlow’s affinity for traditional cuisine is evident, especially in the house-made Cavatelli, which comes out steaming, covered in cheese, dotted with flecks of delicious prosciutto, and a few stems of broccoli rabe. But he’s not afraid to embrace the new– their bar program includes two draft cocktails on a nitrogen tap, which yields a creamy, velvety, and tasty spin on a Negroni.
The unique flavors cooked up at Alta Strada come from knowing the ingredients, having an understanding of their origins and chemical breakdowns, and having a willing desire to play with them. They’ve gone to the trouble of using two vermouths in the Americano cocktail. They have two grappa infusions (Illy coffee and red chilis) they’re toying with for future cocktails. They have a pizza oven that works off a combination of gas and wood. No one is trying to re-invent the wheel here, but their chocolate shortbread with mascarpone dip is almost exactly like eating pre-separated double-stuffed Oreos. It’s amazing.
And at no point does the space feel exclusive, or private. Quite the opposite, in fact; it’s warm, full of natural light, and sort of folds you into the door like you fold egg yolks into flour for pasta dough.
The team at Alta Strada are performing a high-wire balancing act between the old and the new. After their opening weekend, it looks as though they’re about to do a backflip.