The Leopard at des Artistes
The famed Café des Artistes with its lavish pastel murals by Howard Chandler Christy closed after almost a century in 2009 to universal lamentation. Thankfully, the restaurant has been reborn in its former home as The Leopard at des Artistes. The name is a reference to the book by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa that chronicles the sweeping changes in Sicilian life and society that occurred during the Risorgimento period, later converted into a sumptuous movie by Luchino Visconti.
The new owners, Gianfranco and Paula Bolla-Sorrentino, have retained the best parts of Café des Artistes – the idyllic nude murals, the graceful leaded windows, the copious use of flower arrangements – while instituting some welcome updates, making the atmosphere feel lighter and fresher. One regrettable note: This is a restaurant whose magic consists in its atmosphere, yet there are a handful of horrific seats isolated in the enclosed bar area that face blank walls and lack any view of the murals. Moreover, they are routinely blighted by excessive noise emanating from bar patrons. The Leopard has made something of a fetish of invariably seating us there even when the rest of the restaurant is half empty. To their credit, they have moved us each time upon request, but we think the seats should be dispensed with. Those seats aside, the restaurant is one of the most enchanting and romantic settings in New York City and we are happy to report that the food is generally outstanding.
The cuisine is southern Italian and is particularly influenced by the food of Sardinia and Sicily, with influences from Campania, Basilicata, Calabria and Apulia as well. The restaurant points out that there is remarkable culinary fragmentation in Italy, with each region having unique, individualistic characteristics, owing largely to the fact that most Italians (other than the nobility and clergy) did not travel prior to World War I. Accordingly, the food in southern Italy – which is warmer and has a longer growing season – differs dramatically from that of northern Italy and there are distinctive differences among its regions. Moreover, because it is positioned centrally in the Mediterranean, there is also significant foreign influence on the cuisine.
If it is available, begin with the burrata special and then follow it with one of the excellent pastas (the two best are a bucatini with sardines, onions, wild fennel, peanuts and raisins and a homemade pappardelle with roasted rabbit and seasonal mushrooms). For non-pasta courses, there is an excellent ribeye for two with rosemary and fried potatoes and a simple but exquisite oven-roasted Dorado with lemon and olive oil.
The restaurant is a perfect option for pre-Lincoln Center dining and is one of the last bastions of old world glamour in the city.
1 W. 67th St.
New York (nr. Central Park West)
212-787-8767 Mon-Fri, noon-3pm, 5pm-11:30pm; Sat, 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-11:30pm; Sun, 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-11:30pm
- Vito Gnazzo, Chef
RECOMMENDED DISHES See All
- Burrata cheese and tomatoes special
- Octopus salad
- Chitarra with cherry tomatoes and basil’
- Bucatini with sardines and onions and raisins
- Homemade papparedelle with roasted rabbit and seasonal mushrooms
- Oven-roasted “Dorado” with lemon and olive oil served with nature potatoes
- Ribeye for two with rosemary and fried potatoes