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Fred | Mar 14, 2006 03:57 AM

I rarely dine out high-end. Even if I didn't work in the non-profit world, I'd still be too much of a cheapskate, and I just rarely find even the allegedly best food life-transforming enough to come anywhere near, much less cross the 3-digit threshold. Isn't that why we're all here at the Hound -- to find transcendant chow that comes by it honestly and organically, no?

But that being said, I had an incredible upscale meal last weekend at Abboccato. I couldn't find a single Chowhound entry on it (though it could be out there), which I can't explain. If you're treating yourself to a night at Carnegie Hall or City Center (we went to the latter, across the street), to my thinking, you might as well go all-out and splurge on a great dinner.

And Abboccato would be a good bet.

For apps, the three of us got, respectively, bacala, beet and goat cheese ravioli and stuffed quail. I can't vouch for the last, because I don't eat meat, but my difficult-to-please father loved it, and my mom and I were in awe at the other two. Somehow they manage to make everything really rich and flavorful but light, too. The baccala floated nicely on a bed of frisee, and had the perfect amount of lemon to make it tang without overpowering it. Now, it will be tough to have baccala/-lao any other way!

For the main course, mom and I share an expertly grilled branzino. This too had a resonant simplicity to it. Still, you'd think for $60 (guess who was paying? I picked up the theater tix, tho ;-), they could throw in some side dishes. This whole upscale Greek place thing with a single whole grilled fish for somewhere north of $50 perplexes me. It was great, and there is an art to doing simple things well, but still -- if I'm going high-end, I guess I'd like a few more moving parts, even if I don't need heavy sauces with 27 ingredients. The side dish of escarole was also exceptional -- nice and green, and just enough oil.

Dad got pork cheeks for his entree, which looked good, and again heaped praise on the food.

Dessert was also wonderful. Dad had a very interesting pistachio sundae (Haagen Dazs never looked like this!), and mom and I shared a pomegranate panna cotta. Not to sound like broken record (can we even use that expresson anymore?), but it was once again both rich and light. I wish I could get my panna cotta to come out like that.

The space and service were both wonderful, too. Not a drop of attitude or snobbery, just mellow, friendly and elegant. It would be a good choice for a birthday or special occasion (which it was for us -- mom's 66th b-day).

Anyone have any thoughts? I'm interested to hear what others think.

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