I’ve dined out on a rooftop in Marrakech, spent countless hours in Parisian cafés, and joined the bar associations at various Caribbean rum shops. Yet I just can’t force myself to dine alfresco in the city of my birth. Each year as the summer doldrums approach, I find myself retreating to air-conditioned spots to peer out at the increasing number of Gothamites who take to the streets to eat. This year, a run of warm days finally forced me to resolve this dilemma. I’ve learned to select restaurants with large open windows and grab a table astraddle the artificially cooled indoors and the summer’s warmth. That way I not only have the AC at my back and the people-watching in front—I’m protected by one or more rows of those who decry smoking yet don’t mind inhaling car exhaust, not to mention meals punctuated by subway rumble and bus backfires. Currently, one of my favorite windows is at Allegria, a trattoria in the midtown canyons.
Kept private by well-clipped high bushes and sheltered from sun and inclement weather by an awning, this spot seems geared for the tourist trade and unlikely to offer decent fare or attentive service. Or so I thought until my guest and I were ushered to a prime table by a waiter who returned to even up its legs unbidden. We sipped glasses of house chianti ($5.50), relaxed, watched the lights come on in the postwar monstrosity opposite, and tried to guess what each family was doing behind the windows while awaiting our order. From a menu filled with warm-weather favorites, I found myself tempted by the insalata caprese ($8.50), which combined the season’s first luscious red tomatoes with snippets of basil and slices of a delicate parmesan. Simplicity was the name of the game for the toss of mixed baby leaves topped with a light balsamic vinaigrette and just enough salt to make the flavors pop ($6).
I followed with a rigatoni matriciana ($14.25). This one was less luscious and meaty than the one I raved about at Massimo al Ponte Vecchio a few months ago, but it was much better than average nevertheless—covered with just enough of a savory sauce dense with bits of onion, pancetta, and tomato, and topped by the waiter with an extra sprinkling of cheese, just so. My friend opted for the risotto special and found her bliss in a fragrant bowl of creamily toothsome arborio scented to woodsy perfection with dried porcini. It was too hot for dessert and a slip with the order transformed my decaf espresso to the real thing, so I got to muse on my meal all night long. When I found I didn’t mind, even at 4 a.m., I knew I’d soon be back for more.
My next visit found me still in the window on the evening of the Puerto Rican Day parade watching the stragglers head home. Hankering for heartier fare this time, I was almost daunted by the large bowl of minestrone ($5.50) that arrived brimful of pieces of carrots, potatoes, celery, and zucchini, but found it light enough to leave plenty of room for the crisp-edged, perfectly medium-rare slices of steak fanned out on a mound of jus-soaked arugula ($21.95). A dieting girlfriend stuck to the mixed greens, then indulged in a sea bass allegria ($19.95), fish filets on a bed of sun-dried tomatoes and spinach in a light citrusy broth. Dessert was out of the question after my steak, and I avoided the coffee problem by enjoying a postprandial glass of limoncello that the waiter offered gratis to make up for last time. Not only had I found a midtown trattoria with food that suits my taste buds, I’d found one with a layout that suits my new preference in alfresco dining—air-conditioned in the window.