The secrets of Murray Hill!
Admittedly they are few and far between, but they do exist.
I've been eyeing Villa Berulia, 34th St. between Park and Lex, for a couple of years now... potential old-style Italian with '70s decor in the ground-floor of a co-op... what could be more promising? Sadly, I've been to many similar Murray Hill venues that turned out to be completely faded.
Well, this is not the case with the Villa. First of all, it turns out to be Istrian, just like the great Piccola Venezia in Astoria. Like that paradigm of awesomely tasty and expensive eating, it is packed even on weeknights and has a very cool bar. Unlike P.V., it is easily accessible even for those who don't own a car.
I can't say much about the food because we split an app (beef carpaccio) and both ordered the same main (king veal chop medium). But I will say that although the carpaccio was standard, the veal chop was fantastic. In fact, it beats Piccola Venezia's veal porterhouse (it's the same thing -- both sides of the T-bone), which is saying a LOT. Wonderfully grilled and crispy, with melting pieces of fat down the shell side, this is a decadent veal chop. And their medium is closer to medium-rare, so anyone who's squeamish about this kind of thing, watch out. This is veal with a capital V.
They have a very interesting and well-priced wine list. We had a Croatian Grgic (imagine a little "v" above the final "c") and yes, it's the same Grgich who runs the esteemed Grgich Hills in Napa -- it appears to be the same winemaker, and now you know why Grgich Hills has such a weird name. A wonderful zinfandel-like wine with a bit more tannin and a bit less alcohol made with the local Croatian grape, whose name I forget but which is something like "spalac" (again imagine a little "v").
Enough rambling. I look forward to exploring more of the menu at this place. Extremely friendly staff as well.