At some point in life, almost everyone falls in love with Italy and, especially, Italian cuisine. And, for some people, there’s no other choice but a life in Italy—followed by the opening of an Italian restaurant.
A restaurateur with deep roots in both Italy and New York, Nathalie de la Fontaine spent nearly 20 years as the owner of the West Village’s beloved La Focaccia before opening Machiavelli on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Nearly every student of history knows at least one quotation by the Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli whose most renowned work The Prince (1513) became synonymous with devious politicians. What many of us may have forgotten is how the 15th-century diplomat was the epitome of a “Renaissance man” whose humanist writings served as fodder for the Enlightenment.
This is also the fellow who wrote “I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for,” which succinctly alludes to the ongoing allure of Italian cuisine.
Channeling her love for the Italian Renaissance, de la Fontaine has created a restaurant that reflects the era’s patronage of the arts. Furnished not unlike a Florentine palazzo with tessellated floors and wall-size mural renderings of Paolo Uccello’s 15th-century triptych The Battle of San Romano, the high-ceilinged room shimmers in the glow of wrought-iron candelabra.
Start with an order of Schiacciata al Rosmarino, an oven-roasted flatbread dusted and drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh rosemary. Something so simple, yet so savory and delicious—and particularly when paired with a perfectly-balanced Negroni from the bar.
Sip and sink back into the hand-carved, cross-frame armchairs with burgundy velvet cushions that complement marble-topped tables. With a gimlet-eyed gaze around the Renaissance-infused restaurant, it’s possible to imagine that everyone seated is a member of the Florentine court.
To execute her vision, de la Fontaine worked with numerous artisans, woodworkers, ceramists, sculptors, and blacksmiths, as well as musicians and students from Juilliard and Lincoln Center who perform live music nightly. Selections from the “Great American Songbook” and Italian opera fuel the romantic atmosphere.
Recruited in Italy by Forte Hotel Group, Chef Gian Pietro Ferro has spent the past three decades helming noteworthy kitchens throughout Manhattan, including Osteria al Doge and Trattoria Dell’Arte. As the former head chef of Fiorello’s, Ferro repopularized the Lincoln Center standard with his passion for Italian cuisine.
An antipasto of Cozze in Bianco was fragrant with garlic and parsley, the succulent mussels from Prince Edward Island soaking in a broth of white wine and olive oil alongside buttery garlic toast. Equally delicious—and equally classic—was a primo of Spaghetti Chitarra al Pomodoro e Basilico, the handmade pasta delightfully toothsome in a sauce of freshly-chopped San Marzano plum tomatoes and basil. Again, a regard for the simplicity of preparation and the purity of ingredients results in the best of Northern Italian cuisine.
A daily special of soft shell crabs dotted with fresh garlic was a lovely harbinger of spring. Another entrée of Gamberi con “Fregola” Sarda highlights the restaurant’s careful touch with hand-rolled pasta paired with pan-seared shrimp served butterfly-style.
Pizzas at Machiavelli are made with extra virgin olive oil, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Other signature dishes include Casunzei “Ampezzani” made from red beet and ricotta mezzaluna coated in a light butter and poppy seed sauce inspired by a trip to the Dolomites made by de la Fontaine.
At meal’s end, you’ll want to toast to the owner who has managed to bring some of the best of Italy to Manhattan’s Upper West Side.