Everything about Lido, a modern Italian restaurant located in a rapidly gentrifying section of Harlem, is a surprise, from its mixed, though predominantly white clientele to its sophisticated food, delightful service and reasonable prices. Though unpretentious and friendly – a quintessential neighborhood place – like so many destination restaurants in newly-gentrified parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, it will soon be on every foodie’s “to-do” list. Or should be. It’s a gem.
Lido, in business only a month and a half, was pleasantly packed on a Friday night in March. Families with babies were up front, couples and after-work girlfriends were in the back or seated along the inviting, candlelit red oak bar. We were welcomed and seated by co-owner Suzannah Koteen, a neighborhood resident who envisioned refined, seasonal, locally sourced Italian food, and found a four-time James Beard award-winning chef, Stephen Putnam, to execute her dream.
We chose an Italian white wine, Terre Da Vino Roero Arneis 2009 ($10 per glass, $34 per bottle,) unusually rich and complex, to go with our outstanding assortment of Crostini ($3.50 each). As guests of the restaurant, when it came to appetizers, we placed ourselves in the hands of our delightful waitress, Susie (see photo), who also lives in the neighborhood. She emerged from the kitchen with three thick slices of Amy’s rustic Italian bread heaped with a silky, rich chicken liver pate topped with pickled onion, meaty roasted mushrooms and goat cheese, and our surprising favorite, fava beans and mint. For the record, I’ve never much cared for fava beans or mint, but this combo has forever changed my mind. It is amazing.
Another inspired antipasto dish, rich enough and generous enough in size to be a main course, is White Polenta cooked slowly for three hours topped with a crust of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a drizzle of Truffle Oil and a sophisticated mushroom ragu ($12). Again, I’ve never been much of a polenta fan but this dish — creamy, rich and totally satisfying – is nothing short of incredible.
We also sampled the excellent roasted and pickled Marinated Beet Salad ($11), topped with a Robbioloa di Roccaverano Fritter, organic microcress and Saba (aged, syrupy-smooth balsamic vinegar from Modena).
Next, my companion chose the chef’s sophisticated take on a traditional dish. His spaghetti with Veal Meatballs ($16) has already proven so popular that customers are coming back for it. We can see why. The veal is light and moist, and the San Marzano Tomato and Basil tomato sauce, is sweet and delicate.
I love seafood and went for one of the more expensive main dishes on the menu, Grilled Sea Scallops ($25). What a treat! The scallops, moist and perfectly cooked, were placed atop a generous portion of lentils infused with a deep, rich, balsamic-vinegar sauce with a wonderful accent of speck (a lightly-smoked raw ham). I cleaned the plate.
Though the restaurant is inspired by Italian cuisine and ingredients, (and takes its name from the beach resort of Venice), my impression is that the chef – and I say this as the highest of compliments – also brings with him a profound grasp of the complex and time-consuming sauces of French cuisine. The only less-than-inspiring dish we tried was the Grilled Stuffed Calamari.
We sampled two desserts, Panna Cotta served in a large martini glass, topped with macerated strawberries, and a Granny Smith Apple Tart, served with a large scoop of mascarpone gelato atop an amazing black-pepper caramel sauce. The tart was a clear winner.
Lido is easily accessed by public transportation. On the west side it’s a block from the C train and on the east side it can be reached with an uptown bus to 116th Street and transfer to the 116th Street crosstown bus. Venture forth! You’ll be delighted you did.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
2168 Fredrick Douglass Boulevard (SE Corner of 117th Street)
For reservations, call 646-490-8575
Dinner: Tuesday – Thursday, 5:30- 10 p.m.; Friday – Sat, 5:30 – 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 – 10 p.m.. Brunch served Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Lunch will be introduced in the spring.