The Italian language has a magical ability to transform words with otherwise ordinary meanings into ones promising a distinctly more desirable experience; an invite to dine outside doesn’t sound nearly as poetic as one to dine al fresco.
Alta Linea (180 Tenth Avenue; 212-933-9735) (yes, it means “high line” in Italian), a new outdoor restaurant in a front garden space of the High Line Hotel, is the latest project from the Epicurean Group. The team runs a collection of other restaurants (L’Artusi, L’Apicio, dell’anima, Anfora), all of which center around a simple rustic cooking style securely rooted in Italy.
The restaurant aims to conjure the feeling of a Mediterranean happy hour, specifically the enviable Italian habit of sipping cocktails in the open air while the day dims. “The food and beverage [offerings] were definitely inspired by the Italian tradition of aperitivo and al fresco dining,” explains executive beverage director Joe Campanale. “As a student studying abroad in Italy, I fell in love with it and had always thought about translating it in a bigger way.”
The patio dining area at Alta Linea, complete with old-fashioned string lights and paper lanterns, channels the spirit of leisurely Italian lingering alla piazza; it’s bordered by a row of shady trees and neatly clipped hedges, which help to buffer the space against street noise.
The menu is concise and appealing, offering more than a half-dozen appetizer plates, like salami and fontina-stuffed arancini, calamari and rock shrimp fritto misto with lemon aioli, pork meatball polenta, and deliciously addictive fried artichokes, which are cloaked in crunchy breadcrumbs and served with a vibrant salsa verde. There are grilled flatbreads, too, spread with things like smoky cannellini beans and preserved lemon, romesco sauce with smoked almonds, and housemade ricotta.
Alongside the small plates are a few salads, such as one composed of heirloom carrot, spring peas, sunflower seeds, and pecorino, and sandwiches like grilled eggplant with hummus and pickled peppers. Heartier second-course plates include a roast chicken, bacon-cheddar burger, and branzino baked in parchment.
Aside from a pocket-size selection of beer and wine, Campanale’s cocktail menu zeroes in on the essential aperitivo components — bitters and vermouth. Our favorites include a classic negroni with Greenhook gin and Carpano Antica; a negroni bianco made with white vermouth and Cocchi Americano; and a drink that quite possibly exists only on this side of the Atlantic — a slushy frozen negroni.
During the warm summer months, Alta Linea will be open seven days a week for dinner (Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10, and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11) and will close during inclement weather. Brunch service will begin in the next few weeks, and customized picnic baskets will also be available for pickup — handy for walks along the High Line and Hudson River Park.