The Leopard at des Artistes Offers Old-School New York Elegance
In a city full of restaurants with tables bereft of tablecloths and long lines of “foodies” snaking out the door hoping to catch the latest Instagram-worthy food hybrid, it’s sometimes refreshing to catch a culinary glimpse of old-school New York. The Leopard at des Artistes on Manhattan’s Upper West Side may have only opened in 2011, but, in the spirit of its predecessor, Café Des Artistes, the restaurant embodies the spirit of hushed, elegant dining that was more often found in decades past.
Servers quietly rush in and out of the kitchen, moving with purpose and bringing out a steady stream of covered dishes. The most memorable part of the meal was the service: subdued and friendly expertise with wine pairings poured against the famous backdrop of nude nymphs painted by Howard Chandler Christy. The crowd was mixed, but it’s clear that the exclusive feel of the restaurant extends to its frequent guests. (A table in the corner was referred to multiple times as “Mr. Robert De Niro’s preferred table.”)
Chef Vito Gnazzo's food was well-prepared, though perhaps a bit safe. The grilled octopus, for instance, was served simply and peculiarly on a bed of lettuce, and the mixed vegetable platter was not too memorable. However, chef Brogioni’s skills particularly shone with the menu’s takes on classic southern Italian cuisine. The refreshing burrata had just the right creamy consistency, while the starchy gnudi — though quite heavy — was a flavorful comfort food that I would order a second time. For our main course, the duckbreast porchetta was brought out lukewarm, and although the meat was juicy and succulent, the sauce was perhaps overly-sweet.
The culinary highlight of the meal came at the end with an artfully designed Nutella chocolate mousse served on hazelnut crunch and banana gelato; hats off to the pastry chef for an innovative and satisfying finish to our meal.
Although the menu could use some updating, the service and care put into the atmospheric gastronomic experience at The Leopard is one that invites a return visit.