Alto I discovered specialises in Northern-style Italian dishes in a New York genre. The restaurant was hard to find off the street as with so many things Milanese and about, it is understated. The signage by day may be legible but at night that’s not the case. So after overshooting, I found the visit to be very warming, lots of understated furnishings yet polished, as were the staff who give that NY “welcome” to make Australians relax.

The menu is laid out Italian style, antipasti, four pasta, one risotto and many quite special sounding main dishes (not called that-beef, poultry, fish etc) which would take several visits to really test run. Starting with an oxtail and sweetbread terrine gave way to a series of red tastings provided by Sommelier Eric Zillier, a kind and assisting chap.

Exploring the Italianesque wine side of the US led to the West Coast producer Palmina from Santa Barbara. The last bottle of straight Sangiovese was corked (what a horror when a decent Diam or screwcap would not have spoilt my expectations), settling for Palmina Alisos 2005 (AUD 61), a 75/25% sangiovese and merlot imitating Tuscany, 13.5%; yet the traditional grape dominated the blend anyway. This is really good sangiovese; dark cherry and barely ample French oak, berryfruit and savouriness, juicy yet the telltale sangiovese tannic chew mildly modified by merlot, really good impact and terrine compatibility (91).

With partridge breast/leg came a tasting glass of Palmina Lagrein 2007; dense colour, compact nose, cedar, and an equally tightly tannic palate with the usual lagrein high acidity and mint fruit (90). Following was Radio-Coteau Las Colinas Syrah 2005 from the Sonoma Coast (14.5%); poured brilliantly from a door stop bottle and gave the svelte tannin finish of cooler region shiraz. However with time the high oak use took over the wine-oily notes, a sign that a little oak goes a long way, and cooler region shiraz can be pretty finicky when you throw too much barrel at it.

The verdict for Alto; great polish, good Champagne blanc (Gimmonet), remarkable service, flavour integration between sauces and ingredients, il dente risotto, extensive top shelf Italian collection, 19/20; outstanding value, AUD 160 px, 11 East 53rd Street

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