Restaurant Review: Lavo
Upon entering Lavo, the very scene of the bar area is striking. Some of the best looking people in New York City are here- some waiting for tables, others waiting for the huge nightclub which sits below the restaurant to begin forming its line outside. Either way, its upscale feel and energetic vibe make you excited to blend right in with the cool crowd inside. Finding a small crevice at the bar, the mixologists are preparing several of Lavo’s excellent specialty cocktails, priced no higher than any other hotspot of this caliber. The “Amalta Mora” made with Bulleit Bourbon, blackberries, and old fashioned bitters and the “Pompelmo” prepped with Tanteo Jalapeno Tequila, grapefruit, and lime, were tasty concoctions that helped pass the wait time for our table to be ready.
Once called upon, we were ushered into the rather sizable dining room to a large half circle booth, which comfortably fit our small group. With the combined patron conversations and music playing, the dining room can get quite boisterous, but the atmosphere is a lively one and does not detract a bit from the eloquently decorated and elegantly organized space. The fare here is mostly Italian, but Lavo also prides themselves on their steaks. Forgoing the appetizer and raw bar section of the menu, we jumped right toward the pastas and meatballs, opening with their fresh kobe “meatball with whipped fresh ricotta” ($21) made from sheep’s milk, hovering on top. Served in a sea of sausage ragu, the generous portion was served to our table already cut up evenly to be shared. The tender meat deliciously paired with the salty, thick red sauce for an old fashioned, traditional meatball flavor, albeit uniquely different without ground pork or veal mixed in. The “rigatoni melanzana” ($24) dish meshed flawlessly with the savory meatball, topped with fresh tomatoes, creamy chunks of bufala mozzarella, and pieces of roasted eggplant, covered in garnish. The portion size of the pasta was again a welcome surprise and the light sauce served as a complimentary broth coating each perfectly cooked piece of pasta.
Attempting to sample each portion of Lavo’s menu, and based on our server’s recommendation, we opted for a fish and two meat dishes, wherein again, diminutive portions were not an issue. The “roasted Chilean sea bass” ($34) was a delicately prepared large cut, served in a buttery soup, topped with heirloom tomatoes and crispy Portobello mushrooms. The smooth sauce and lightly seared fish suitably contrasted the salted mushrooms, and where the dish was a bit saucy, the fish itself was not. Similar to most steakhouses, Lavo’s cuts of meat are served a la carte, and the restaurant encourages the ordering of side items to compensate. The “center cut filet” ($39) was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and well seasoned with salt and cracked pepper, served with a lemon squeeze, and an insanely delicious cooked garlic clove. The filet had a mouthwatering flavor, and had enough of a crisp and char to please our palate bite after bite. Similarly, the “Colorado rack of lamb” ($52) boasted a wonderful collection of flavors, although the price tag was considerably hefty. Each meaty piece was tear off the bone tender, with a salty, grilled outer layer- the way a tasty piece of lamb is supposed to taste, although some of the pieces were served on the fattier side. Frankly, with all of the food that our table ordered, the sides may have simply been overkill. The “polenta fries” ($10) were delicious, but the deep fried taste made them seem heavier than they actually were, at a time when we were filling up. The “roasted rosemary potatoes” ($10) were also serviceable, but at this point in our meal, we would have been better served going with a green over a starch. The demi-glazed sautéed onions on top of the potatoes however, were a welcome addition to the steaks.
By the time dessert arrived, we had had our fill on some very good to excellent fare, but there’s no denying the “oreo zeppole” ($10). Served in a beautiful looking row of six, doused in a sweet chocolate drizzle and covered in powdered sugar, the deep fried cookies were ‘eyes roll back in your head’ delicious. The supplemental ice cream dish filled with a creamy malted vanilla milkshake was no match for these cookies, and satiated as we all were, before we knew it, dessert had been conquered.
In many respects, Lavo shares many parallels with Las Vegas. The restaurant’s portions are sizable, but they are not cheap, and like Vegas, here, you’re going to pay for the excess. That said, the place is a spot to be seen, with the kind of restaurant bar that can be a destination, rather than a waiting area, inhabited by some of the finest physical specimens the City has to offer. The dining atmosphere alone would be worth experiencing, but the fact that the fare it serves up is in most respects classy and excellent, makes this Midtown East spot worth venturing to. Unfortunately, getting downstairs to Lavo’s chic nightclub after dinner can pose a problem, not just because admission is selected based on their manager’s discretion, but because after such a hearty dinner, you may not be physically able to shake your proverbial tailfeather.