Well I said to heck with the Times book and took the advice of most here and went to Scalintella Sunday night. It was my wife's 50th and while I would have rather taken her to a lavish 4 star, she insisted she only wanted the best Italian food I could find. Scalinatella succeeds in this area and most others as well.
Parking was a breeze, right next door, literally 15 steps from car to restaraunt, and the aromas you are greeted with while walking from the lot to the restaraunt are enough to let you know you're about to eat some really good food. The restaraunt itself is cozy and the lights are dim enough that I felt very comfortable. Tables are close but they set them up in a way(think angles) that you do not notice your fellow diners.
We were greeted by our waiter and given the complimentary olive oil/rosemary dip- they actually used some pretty good olive oil and the bread was crusty and tasty. They also brought out a seafood salad comp that was out of this world. Little bits of mussels, shrimp, clams, squid and scungile in a light oil/herb based toss. Delicious!
We started with 2 apps. My wife ordered buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and peppers. I can't stress the word "quality" here enough folks. The mozzarella was very good, really, I mean very good. But the tomatoes and peppers were excellent as well. The tomatoes were like those grown in Jersey and freshly picked, the peppers were skinless(thank you!) and oh so flavorfull. I chose the special app, which was Shitake mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat and a few other things I forget, in a red wine reduction sauce. My God, this was one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. I was sad when it was gone. The shitakes were the biggest I have ever seen-2-3 inches across and the chef gets an A+ on presentation here.
My wife is not big on 4 course meals, so we stuck to 3 and ordered our mains next, which we are both pasta lovers so guess what we had ; )
She had the shells with broccoli rabe, sausage and garlic and said it was the best she ever had. She orders this dish or others very similar, so I trust her opinion. I hate greens so I could not taste it and form my own opinion. I had one of the specials, which was Paparadelle in a spicy red sauce, laced with pancetta. This was really good. The sauce was thick, clingy and made with just the right amount of spicyness to compliment the pancetta. The pasta was very good. No desert, we were full.
To sum this restaraunt up, service was very good, my glass was empty for more than 10 minutes and this is why I can't say it was excellent, and yes I was thirsty!! Our waiter was pleasant and made us feel welcome, I did not detect a bit of snobiness or "not regulars" attitude. Food was very good as well, for my wife it was excellent. My app was out of this world, the flavors that exploded in my mouth with every bite of that mushroom were excelent. It is a nice atmosphere, and were it not for the closeness of the tables, could be very romantic, the stone walls are a great touch, as are the tables with fresh ingredients spread out in the front area. My wife loved the room and thought it was very cozy. So all in all the night was a success. We spent $135 not including tip, this included 3 diet cokes, a bottle of San Pellagrino water, two apps and two main pasta dishes. As I look back, we both agree that seems like alot for what we had, but it was worth it. I reminded my wife, after all, we were dining on the upper eastside ; )
Next time you're in the mood for really good italian food I would suggest you give Scalinatella a try, you might be surprised at just how good it is. Thanks for everyone who gave me input over the last 6 months, it was truly appreciated, We had lunch at Union Square the next day and I'll put that in another post -Mike.