Classic Italian at Emilio’s Ballato…

Step Back Into the 1950’s and Mangiare!

What’s old is new again.

Case in point, Emilio’s Balatto.

The original clubby establishment debuted in the 1950’s.

I took a posse of rockers there over the years as it is a safe haven for such notables as Billy Joel, David Bowie, Lenny Kravitz and President Obama.

I was talking NYC restaurants with my colorist (sounds almost as obnoxious as “my nanny”) and he mentioned that Emilio’s is one of his favs.

Well, now I am obsessed as the restaurant had slipped my mind.

Last weekend my husband and I headed to NoLita after seeing the Modigliani exhibit on the Upper East Side.

It was a hot, humid September Saturday and we were looking for sustenance and a glass of rose on a steamy afternoon.

We entered the eclectic, weathered space with naturally distressed walls adorned with celebrity photos and accented by sparkling chandeliers.

Emilio Vitolo at Emilio’s Ballato Restaurant

Owner Emilio Vitolo is seated by the restaurant’s open door.

His presence can be intimidating.

He motioned us to a table in the 40-seater restaurant and gave us the once over.

We sat down and perused the classic menu.

Oscar, our charming waiter, took our drink order.

The rose was chilled and fabulous ($15).

Starving after a spin class and a 3 mile walk to the Jewish Museum from home, we immediately ordered the baked clams and the Cesare Salad.

Little Neck Clams (Vongole Oreganate)

The Vongole Oreganate, baked Little Neck Clams with homemade breadcrumbs, was stellar. The sauce was so good we sopped it up with crunchy, hot Italian bread ($19).


A classic preparation, the Cesare was ice cold and the romaine crisp, dressed perfectly ($16).

Linguine alle Vongole

We opted for the Linguine alle Vongole, linguine with fresh clams, olive oil and light garlic. The pasta was al dente and the sauce fantastico ($28).

 Emilio’s is known for their red sauce so we decided we had to sample it.
Rigatoni con Zucchine

Oscar recommended the Rigatoni con Zucchine. The sauce was unbelievable and we literally licked the dish ($22).

It was such a deliciously mellow lunch in old world surroundings.

Sometimes, it is lovely to step back in time and let everything go.

Back in the ’50’s, the restaurant on Houston Street was owned by John Ballato who gradually turned it into a hangout for artists and performers like John Lennon and Andy Warhol.

After Mr. Ballato died in 1980, the restaurant’s following evaporated.

Emilio’s as a bay with his family.

Mr. Vitolo, who made a living as a cook and pastry chef in his younger years, bought the space with a partner in 1992.

He committed himself to fine-tuning recipes and analyzing what other chefs were doing.

The food is authentic and the restaurant presents an unfussy preparation of classic dishes.

Emilio’s Ballato is the real thing.

I am still savoring the sauces.

Emilio Ballato’s 55 East Houston Street New York City. Open Sunday-Thursday 12-4pm and 5-11pm Friday and Saturday 12-4pm and 5-midnight. No reservations.

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