Not Exactly Identical Twins

As an only child, I don't truly understand the dynamics of siblings, so I was amazed several years back to note twin Italian eateries flanking an apartment entrance at the same address. Each is owned by the same company, but, like so many siblings, their personalities are radically different.

Minimalist is the word for Trattoria del Corso, the plainer of the duo. Travel posters decorate the walls and nicely spaced blond tables set a decidedly informal tone. I managed to snag one of the last lunchtime spots in the crowded room and knew I'd made the right choice when a waiter appeared immediately with a small bowl of flavorful olives and a basket of crusty bread, then doubled back with my wine and soon thereafter with my salad: an impressive toss of baby greens, topped with cucumbers so fresh they crunched and tomato bits that made the most of the greenhouse option, all dressed with balsamic and oil and just enough salt to make the flavors pop ($6.50). My pasta amatriciana ($11.50) was a revelation. Almost burnt umber and dense with chunks of pancetta, slivers of translucent cooked onion, and a punctuation of capers, it was even deeper and darker than the one I'd discovered a year ago at Massimo's, so scrumptious that I scarfed it right down. When I called for the check, I was caught up short by the waiter who chided, "Please come back when you have more time to enjoy your food." I hadn't lingered, but I'd certainly savored, so I vowed to return.

When I did, however, curiosity got the better of me and I chose La Vineria, the flashier twin—similarly minuscule, but boasting a darker, more formal wood decor and walls lined with wine bottles. The order was simple—a glass of red and a steak. When it arrived, I was astonished by enough meat to feed a family of four. As tasty as it was massive, with crisp, charred edges giving way to succulent pink meat and the bonus of a bone for chawing, it almost warranted its hefty $32.50 tab. But the chair squeezed in behind my own didn't add to my enjoyment. By the time I was ready to leave, the tables were uncomfortably crammed and the room reverberating with conversation. Sometimes the quieter sister makes better company. It was back to plain Jane for me.

One of the restaurants at 19 West 55th is informal, one crowded.
photo: Cary Conover
One of the restaurants at 19 West 55th is informal, one crowded.

Details

Trattoria del Corso
19 West 55th Street, 212-957-1500.
Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Major credit cards. Limited wheelchair access.

La Vineria
19 West 55th Street, 212-247-3400.
Open Monday to Saturday noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 to 10 p.m. Major credit cards. Limited wheelchair access.

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I went for dinner, to allow time for savoring. Tiny red votive lights served as evening transformation, and the World Economic Forum ensured that we were the only diners. We got the full treatment. Olives came out with the crusty bread and the host suggested a Chianti that was liquid velvet ($8 a glass) and a duo of salads to start: the mixed green, as crisp as remembered, and an astonishing slaw of avocado and shaved baby artichokes that accented the chew of one with the cream of the other. Then it was on to mains: a steak for me, for comparative purposes, and a veal cutlet for my guest. My steak was less massive but just as flavorful, and its sides of bitter broccoli rabe and buttery mashed spuds were comfort food for me ($28.50). My friend's breaded cutlet overflowed the plate. Topped with a mix of arugula and red onion and spritzed with lemon, it was light and deeply satisfying at the same time ($18.50). When we left, there was no admonition from the host, only the afterglow of the glasses of grappa, each with a floating strawberry, that he'd offered with the check. I like flash as much as the next one, but with these twins, I'll take the less popular sister any day.

 
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