Bar Milano was the inevitable next step for the Denton brothers. First, there was Ino, the charming, unassuming West Village panini boite with a killer wine list and the truffled egg toast. Out of this seed grew Inoteca, the rustic chic LES spot with smallish plates, a killer wine list, slightly fancier truffled egg toast and unbelievable meatballs. Both places were and continue to be fantastic on several levels: the food is uncomplicated but flavorful, supported by a smart wine list, the atmosphere is young, fun, energetic, and late-night (both serve until 3AM), and the price point is a great conduit for aforementioned young, fun, energetic and late-night atmosphere.
It would be easy to stay at that level, with the casual eating and all. So it’s admirable that these guys decided to, essentially, grow up with their next venture. No more eating with your hands. And forget bringing everything out all at once- it’s a three-course deal. The Denton bros. are the owners of a restaurant for grown-ups. And while I sincerely loved my experience there, it wasn’t without a few growing pains.
First off, there’s the awkward silence that comes after you realize the restaurant’s un-fun location. Bar Milano is in Murray Hill. Uh-huh. Perhaps it’s a piece of brilliant location scouting; after all, Murray Hill has a dearth not just of Italian food but of stylish restaurants period. But by choosing not to open in scene-y LES or always trendy West Village, the Dentons are making a statement along the lines of, “whatever, it’s all about the food anyway.” (that’s me pretending to be the Dentons and is no way an actual statement from them)
Then there’s the dressed-up quality. It’s very nice. My friend Matt, an Ino regular and very stylish guy, sat down with me at one of the dark polished wood tables and whispered, “I feel underdressed. This is fancy.” It’s not Ino. Or even Inoteca. There are suits in the room. There is a nice furniture, carpeting, and an abundance of well-dressed staff. Be prepared.
Finally, it’s wonderful. Phew. Here are the flavors I recognize, but more refined, more textured and complex. The pastas are incredible- I order tagliatelle bolognese that is as ethereal as bolognese can be. My pork chop comes and although it’s size is Flintstone-esque, it’s cooked perfectly, served simply over wilted greens mustard fruits.
The food is great, the service is very good, and on the night I was there, Jason Denton was working the floor, delivering food and chatting up guests. This place wants to be taken seriously. In the dining room, it’s hard not to. On that note, Bar Milano is great for a midweek business dinner, a special event (birthday? anniversary?) or the parents are in town.
For all its maturity, there is a more free and easy side to Bar Milano. Literally, like a fork in the road. Upon entering, you can go left for the dining room, or right for the bar. In the bar room, big windows overlook the passing traffic of Third Ave, and a line of unreserved tables await those who never got a reservation next door. Ah, this seems familiar…a young, fun crowd sharing pasta and clinking wine glasses. It’s boisterous. It’s the kid’s table. I know I’ll return to Bar Milano. The question is where will I be seated?
323 Third Ave at 24th St.