New York, NY
Almost Instantly, America's Most Intelligent Italian Restaurant
Jonathan Benno has emerged from behind the Iron Curtain—the mercilessly precise kitchen of Thomas Keller's Per Se, where he labored brilliantly as chef de cuisine. The word around town was that he was ready to slow down and cook simple Italian food. Not him. He remains uncompromising. He's the boss at Lincoln, preparing food almost as exacting as that at Per Se, maybe because there's so much on the line: his own impeccable reputation as well as a reported $20 million investment by the Patina Group. Lincoln is a glass-and-steel structure on the plaza of Lincoln Center, looking a little like a chalet and a little like a three-dimensional rhomboid. With its grass-covered roof, wooden interior ceiling, and multitude of dining areas, some open and some intimate, you might feel as if you're tucked away in the mountains of Manhattan. Benno's food is rigorously Italian but comes in a multitude of styles: Lasagna and eggplant parmigiana are idealized but still lusciously gooey. A few main courses suggest the meticulousness of Per Se, although friends insist I'm wrong, claiming Benno's style here is warmer. His pastas, particularly the uni-and-crab rigati (short tubes, curved and ridged), taste more Italian than I'd expect from a non-Italian. (He isn't one, even though his name ends in a vowel.) In an era when Italian food in America is about overwhelming gusto and over-the-top portions, Benno's food is remarkably thoughtful. With Marea (number one in our Best New Restaurants survey last year) only a few blocks away, it seems the Upper West Side is becoming the Italian-food capital of America.
Left: Chef Jonathan Benno's dramatic new addition to New York's Lincoln Center.
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