EAT: Find Your Inner Italian at Gente
153 E 45th St.
(Between Lex and 3rd Avenues)
New York, NY 10017
Tel. (212) 557-5555
Open 6 Days a Week
A magician will never reveal the secrets to his or her magic tricks; an audience is left with only its assumptions and the notion that often there is more than meets the eye. Apparently so too is the case of Gente, a restaurant located in the heart of midtown.
Gente is self-described as a “touch of Milan in New York City,” with a menu inspired by the owner’s over-100 trips to Italy. One might think owner Jay Mitchell is Italian, or, for that matter, uses exclusively Italian ingredients for what is seemingly authentic (and if not authentic, certainly delicious) taste. However, the owner/Proprietario is not only not Italian, he is also not the chef. The chef is, indeed, also not Italian. Nonetheless, absent any formal training in the culinary arts, Mr. Mitchell exhibits an uncanny ability to reduce a dish to its most basic ingredients, and to combine said ingredients in the most professional of manners, arguably rivaling those with the formal training he lacks. As for the ingredients? Aside from a seemingly religious devotion to Lingurian olive oil and high esteem for mozzarella borne of Vesuvian soil, among the fresh items enjoyed by this reviewer were tomatoes carefully selected from the nearest Greenmarket and melt-in-your-mouth burrata mozzarella from…Wisconsin. The trick, I believe, is when combining local produce with unmatchable Italian staples, Gente manages to produce the essence of a “local” Italian dining experience in a neighborhood notorious for grab-and-go commuter clientele.
Mr. Mitchell pulls yet another rabbit from his hat in converting his customers from this “grab-and-go” mentality to one of relaxed European dining. Exhibit A: one devoted customer who stopped in on the night of my visit who, upon entry, ensured Mr. Mitchell he just wanted to stop in to say hello. Yet upon being graced by Mr. Mitchell and his staff’s warm hospitality, not to mention the lure of the delicious cuisine (perhaps it was the scrape-your-plate good Spaghetti con Primavera ($20), featuring a host of fresh vegetables intertwined in multi-grain pasta and topped with impeccably toasted pine nuts), remained for several hours, justifying one missed train after the next.
Of note, the Spaghetti con Polpettine di Kobe ($20) (that’s right, Kobe meatballs), L’Aquapazza ($26) (sea bass, tomatoes, olive oil seawater and white wine), and Costoletta d’Agnell ($30) (grilled lamb chops, olive oil, garlic and rosemary) all follow the one recipe that Mr. Mitchell was willing to reveal: “good ingredients, simply done.” The finale, which again subscribes to Mr. Mitchell’s tried-and-true approach, is a not-to-be missed blood orange sorbet, served atop sheets of pineapple carpaccio. Yes, that says carpaccio.
For those looking to enjoy a quick-trip to Italy, consider Gente for honest, no-fuss fine dining. Just don’t be surprised if you leave feeling rather spellbound.