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Sant Ambroeus: A Celebrity’s Italian Go-To

Spotting Michael Kors perched outside Sant Ambroeus last night reminded me not only of how close this neighborhood favorite is to my humble abode but also of how celebrities flock to it to sip espresso, nosh on elegant pasta dishes, and lurk privately in dark corners. An old-world Milanese bastion of all Italian things sophisticated, Sant Ambroeus utterly oozes refinement.

The corner restaurant at Perry St and W.4th, Sant Ambroeus is small, plush, and not in the least bit trendy. A classic bar at the entrance offers the perfect spot to indulge in tiramisu and a cappucino; the outdoor wraparound tables are perhaps the neighborhood’s best place to partake in people-watching (behind large dark sunglasses, of course); and, despite claims to casual dining, white tablecloths, restrained decor, luscious fresh flowers, and well-suited waiters bely the ristorante‘s true intentions.

The menu is strictly traditional Milanese cooking – don’t expect culinary backflips or teetering presentations here. The kitchen focus on simple classic preparations made with the very best ingredients. From my many excursions, the best starters include the asparagis freddi with light dijon dressing and chopped hard-boiled eggs, the caprese salad (featuring some of the best buffalo milk mozzarella outside of Little Italy), and the vitello tonnato, a devilish chilled veal dish with tuna sauce. For pastas, the traditional risotto with asparagus and parmesan may not be worth the $22 price tag, but it’s a mean and creamy bowl of indulgence if you’re willing to shell out. The basic linguine cacio e pepe is fresh, clean and ideal for those seeking lighter fare, while the spaghettino all’arrabbiata offers a restrained kick with spicy tomato sauce and jalapeno pepperes.

Feeling like a big spender? Splurge on the breaded veal chop Milanese or the filet mignon, done classic, with mashed potatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, and of course, gravy. Sant Ambroeus also offers breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea, and a panini menu – my recommendation? Stop by during tea time for a few paninotti (rolls stuffed with fillings such as mortadella mushrooms and provolone or tuna with marinated artichokes), small plates like sliced fried eggplant with cheeses or raw filet mignon carpaccio, and one of the best cups of coffee you’ll have on this side of the Atlantic.

Sant Ambroeus soothes and coddles with platinum level service, comforting Italian classics that still impress, and an old-world elegance that’s increasingly difficult to find in New York. There’s no bumping music here or too-cool-for-school servers throwing around dish towels or distracting lighting casting a strange glow over your food. This throwback to 1930s Milan (where the original Sant Ambroeus was located) is an excellent option for family dinners with parents or grandparents, for a relaxed breakfast with the paper and fresh squeezed OJ, or for a fancy date night among the rich (and maybe famous).

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