Few restaurants have the rich history of New York’s Artists Café. Housed in the Hôtel Des Artistes, one of the city’s illustrious “studio” buildings known for its creative residents, the café was the communal restaurant (the apartments had no kitchen) for tenants such as the dancer Isadora Duncan, playwright Noel Coward, writers Fannie Hurst and Alexander Woollcott, and painter Norman Rockwell. An accomplished regular, Howard Chandler Christy, distinguished illustrator and society portraitist in the 1920s and 1930s, painted the iconic and now iconic murals – “Fantasy Scenes with Naked Beauties”—that serve as the backdrop to this elegant New York institution.
From the 1970s through the late 2000s, the restaurant was overseen by famed restaurateur George Lang and was the nightclub of choice for Lincoln Center entertainers as well as a long list of New York actors, politicians and celebrities. like Barbara Walters, Howard Stern, and Ruth Westheimer before closing in 2009. In 2011, the restaurant was revived by Gianfranco Sorrentino, who also owns the much-loved Il Gattopardo in the Rockefeller Townhouses across from the MoMA Sculpture Garden, and renamed The Leopard at Artists.
Under Sorrentino’s care, the restaurant has returned to its glory days and the classic Italian cuisine is some of the best in town. Associate Jordan Frosolone (ex-Hearth, August, Sessanta), who joined The Leopard in 2020 is one of New York’s most underrated chefs, and is now in charge of the kitchen where his talent and skill passion for Italian regional cuisine are fully expressed. display.
Leopard’s menu reflects Frosolone’s extraordinary knowledge of the vast Italian culinary traditions. Antipasti include incredibly light and airy veal and ricotta meatballs and a velouté Sformato di Tartufo Nero, the classic black truffle custard from northern Italy. The pasta, unsurprisingly, also shines. Frosolone’s Ennese Lasagna, made with Marsala pork stew and Piacentinu cheese (a bright yellow Pecorino made with saffron and sprinkled with black peppercorns from the central Sicilian town of Enne), is perfectly balanced, sweetness and the acidity of the wine complementing the richness of the pork and zesty cheese.
And while you can certainly order one of the best Bistecca alla Fiorentina in town, Frosolone’s deft touch is best seen in its fish dishes, especially the Orata Ripieno – sea bream fillets stuffed with spinach and confit of cherry tomatoes, then wrapped in salt and salted lardo de Colonnata herbs, and cooked until the melting fat infuses the tender flesh with a delicate smoky herbaceousness. For dessert, the table-side Zabaglione, expertly whipped up by George Coteanu, the restaurant’s longtime manager, is the best decision you’ll make all night.
From next month, The Leopard will start offering regional menus featuring regions like Puglia and Lazio; Fresh burrata from Bari served with pickled wild hyacinth bulbs found only in Puglia, and Roman-style braised oxtails will be among the highlights. But whichever menu you choose, Café des Artistes’ Leopard won’t disappoint when you experience this exciting reimagining of a legendary Gotham icon.
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