Dopo Teatro East: Authentic Italian on 62nd Street

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By Amanda Woods With so many Italian eateries in New York City, it can be difficult to find an "authentic" one-offering 100 percent home-cooked food and an ambience that transports diners to Italy, if only for an hour or two. Dopo Teatro East, which opened on East 62nd Street between First and Second avenues at the end of June, does just that. Diners are greeted with a "buona sera" as they enter the front of the restaurant, where they find a bar stocked with drinks to complement the restaurant's dishes. An ornate-yet not gaudy-chandelier with small crystals hanging from it adds to the sophisticated character of the setting. The manager, Albi Mecaj, and the chef, the Italian-born Salvatore DiBella, are very attentive to diners and help them to pick the exact kind of meal they are looking for, from the main course to the beverage to the dessert. "You have to offer 100 percent," Mecaj said. "While you're in the restaurant, everything has to be constant, from the beginning to the end. And the perfect example that I always give when I train my employees, I tell them, 'Picture this as a show, as a theater show. The moment the curtains open, the show starts, and there is no way you can [make] a mistake and come back, because it's live.'" In the short time the restaurant has been open, it has already attracted regulars, and it's no surprise after tasting some of the most popular dishes. My first plate, filled with seafood, offered an eclectic but savory combination of flavors. The grilled vegetables mixed with grilled calamari and grilled scampi was rich with flavor, and the balsamic reduction dressing drizzled over the top added an additional punch. The yellowfin tuna medallions, served with olives, capers, thyme and aged balsamic reduction, is a must-try for seafood lovers-it had a distinctive, yet not overwhelming taste. I also tried thinly sliced salmon over fresh fennel, which was light and refreshing. The pasta samplings were equally satisfying. The large tube pasta with eggplant, salted ricotta, tomato sauce, garlic and basil was perfectly prepared-each item in the dish had a distinctive taste. The ravioli filled with buffalo mozzarella, butter and sage was also a delight-once I cut into the ravioli, I found that the mozzarella was a perfect consistency-soft, but not greasy or too stringy. The sage was a nice touch, and had that melt-in-your-mouth quality. Mecaj said the ravioli filled with shrimp in lobster reduction is his favorite pasta dish served at the restaurant-and I agree. The fish and pasta complement each other in both flavor and texture, and no grated cheese or any additional flavoring is necessary on this dish. I also tried a plate of pan-seared sea bass with prawn, Prosecco reduction, cherry tomatoes and capers. The sea bass was light and delicious, and the cherry tomatoes and capers also added some welcome flavor. A glass of sparkling Prosecco wine made these dishes all the better-and especially worked well with the flavors of the fish. Toward the end of the meal, I tried one of the restaurant's top red wines, which was slightly stronger, and also a well-selected complement. The dessert, called semifreddo, with gelato, small nuts, strawberries on the side, and a generous amount of chocolate syrup poured around the plate, was satisfyingly sweet, and had a cooling-down effect on a scorching August evening. Dan Bolton, a jazz pianist, played throughout the evening, blending well with casual conversation, the chef's Italian, and the sounds of knives and forks at work. A garden in the back, designed by Mecaj-is immediately inviting. Lanterns of various colors and designs hang from the ceiling. Restaurant staff hopes to soon place tables and chairs in that area. Dopo Teatro has another location near Times Square on West 44th Street between Seventh Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas. That location attracts more of a tourist crowd, and the Upper East Side opening was an effort to branch out, Mecaj said. Restaurant prices range from $10 to $14 for salads, $14 to $19 for antipasti, $16 to $20 for pasta, $27 to $30 for fish, $22 to $32 for meat, $7 to $9 for vegetables, and $14 to $18 for pizza pies-another restaurant specialty. Dopo Teatro East: 345 E. 62nd St., New York, NY 10065

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