Every neighborhood has one: that doomed space where nothing seems to work. The northeast corner of 92nd Street and Madison Avenue has suffered this fate for at least a dozen years. A new restaurant would move in and expectations among Carnegie Hill residents would run high. Disappointment and closure would soon follow.
So when we heard that one of our favorite restaurants, Paola’s, was relocating from East 84th Street to this controversial space, we were wary. Would the curse be reversed?
We are happy to say, yes! Paola Bottero’s restaurant has a different look but the food is even better in its new location. All our favorites remain on the menu—the crispy fried artichokes, the calamari in padella (squid topped with bread crumbs and olive oil), and house marinated fresh sardines. The pastas are all wonderful, but we particularly love the homemade pappardelle with duck meat ragu and the homemade cavatelli with sausages and broccoli rabe. For main courses, the branzino, grilled fillet of striped bass served with spinach, continues at the top of our list, as well as the veal dishes—the grilled veal chop with Portobello mushrooms and the scaloppine piccata, cutlets with a lemon caper sauce. For dessert, the lemon tart is a refreshing finish.
Somehow we knew that Paola would succeed with the food. But what about the atmosphere? Her restaurant on 84th Street had a cozy, romantic feel to it, with dark red walls, velvet curtains, and subdued lighting. The front room had a small bar where neighborhood people sometimes gathered, while the side room was secluded and quiet. The 92nd Street space, on the other hand, is a large, square open room with tin ceilings that do little to absorb the sound. How would she make the new space warm and inviting?
She made the decision not to drop the ceiling, instead painting it a dusty pink. Round lights with an Art Deco feel hang from the heights and later in the evening the lighting is dimmed. The large windows, left unadorned by the previous tenant, are now graced with beautiful horizontally striped silken drapes in two shades of orange. Underneath the drapes are sheer curtains. During lunch, the sheers are opened to allow for people-watching; at night, these gauzy covers are closed to make the inside space seem more intimate. And the extra fabric does help to muffle noise. The familiar blue and white pottery dishes are set on each table, while orange colored roses are placed in the center.
The bar in the new space is larger and allows comfortable seating for having a drink or dining. Because the new Paola’s, like the old Paola’s, is rapidly becoming a neighborhood favorite, the bar area is a good place to visit with friends while waiting for a table.
Paola’s staff, as efficient and friendly as ever, works hard to make sure that even those who come late or show up unexpectedly find a table. Reservations, however, should be made to guarantee timely seating.
Paola’s is open for lunch and faces competition from Sarabeth’s next door, still the most popular breakfast and lunch destination in the neighborhood. While Paola’s menu works well for dinner, we would love to see more variety at lunchtime. Additional salads and some egg dishes (a frittata would be a good addition) would provide more options for those wanting a lighter lunch.
At least for the foreseeable future, Paola’s has managed to turn around a troubled corner. What more can we say but welcome to the neighborhood.
Type of food: Italian
1295 Madison Avenue
Romantic-4 Child Friendly-3
Girls’ Night Out-4 Solo Dining—4
Business Dining—4 Visitors Welcome—4
Dress Code—Business Budget—Expensive