Sam Sifton Pans Nello, Rich Fools Unlikely To Care

by BILLY GRAY · April 14, 2010

    Nello, the Upper East Side clubhouse for ladies who pretend to lunch, got a scathing review in the Times today. Will Sam Sifton's smackdown humble owner Nello Balan, the most loathsome restaurateur in Manhattan? Probably not.

    Sifton describes Nello's as "diner food at Champagne prices," which is a huge insult to diners. Other choice quotes about the biggest UES swindle since Madoff Investments:

    "[One table] ate crisp artichokes offered as carciofi alla giudia. These tasted of shirt cardboard. They ate sawdusty chicken livers lashed with balsamic. They sipped at lentil soup familiar to anyone who owns a can opener and shared too-salty saffron risotto, correctly yellow, of no particular flavor...They then laughed about lober ravioli so tasteless it might have been prop food for an advertisement.

    "The place is what used to be called a rip. (And the desserts are stale to boot.) "

    It all brings to mind Sifton predecessor Frank Bruni's evisceration of similar society canteen Harry Cipriani.  Why do wealthy people spend lavishly on crap food? Is it a masochistic way of keeping out the riffraff? A legacy of WASP cuisine, whose biggest contribution to the culinary world was the saltine?

    Whatever the reason, a scene is a scene and the Chanel set is unlikely to move on after a Times diss. Which is too bad considering Balan's history of ripping off waiters, leaking phony exorbitant bills to the press and choking and kicking his girlfriend in the groin. (Appropriately enough, Sifton describes Balan as looking "fierce, almost predatory" and says that "rage can overtake a person" at his restaurant.)

    Sifton denies the home of the $100 pasta any stars and gives it a "Fair" rating in the end. Which is, well, a little too fair. If I were him, I'd prefer another round with KFC's breadless sandwich.

    Photo 2 via Daniel Krieger/NYT