Vella – A Casual Upper East Side Wine Bar
One of the great things about living in Manhattan is that there are amazing restaurants on nearly every block (and sometimes several per block). Last week, my husband and I were both getting home late and not looking forward to having to cook dinner with limited resources in the refrigerator. So, we decided spontaneously to go out to one of his favorite places on the Upper East Side. Unfortunately, that restaurant is so great there were no open tables. Instead of waiting we decided to stroll down the street to see what we would stumble on. True to Manhattan form, just a couple doors down on the same block we found Vella Wine Bar and Kitchen.
Vella is located on the corner of E. 77th St. and Second Avenue. It’s a very spacious place with a mix of high and low tables both indoor and outdoor. Since it was a nice night, we decided to sit outside. Second Avenue can be a little busy in the evenings, but the traffic wasn't too noisy and it was interesting to watch.
Vella’s cuisine has Italian, French, and New American influences and also an emphasis on seafood – oyster specials and sushi. The menu is focused on small plates, although they also have several full-size entrées on the menu. The drinks menu is pretty standard for a Manhattan restaurant with 22 wines available by the glass and about 50 or by the bottle. There is a good range of pricing. I ordered one of the signature cocktails – Cool as a Cucumber – which is made with Hendricks Gin, Absinthe, mint, and cucumber. It was very refreshing for a warm nearly summer evening.
For dinner, we decided to go with several small plates to be able to try a broader range of food. We started with the Camembert cheese plate for an appetizer. It came with fresh bread, grapes, and fig jam. Next, we had the wild mushroom flatbread. The flat bread was nice and thin and delicate. The bread was topped with truffle-ricotta spread, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, caramelized onions, rosemary and basil. It was delicious and the truffle-ricotta spread added a creamy element.
For our entrées, we ordered the truffled mac and cheese and the veal and ricotta meatballs. The mac and cheese was made with béchamel sauce, garlic and truffle oil. I love truffle oil – it makes anything it’s added to delicious. Whenever I see it on a menu I usually fall for it, sometimes even twice in one meal apparently! The meatballs were made with a mixture of ground veal and ricotta and were topped with tomato sauce and parmesan. The tomato sauce was a very pleasant consistency and not too acidic. Both entrées were excellent. The small plates were a good size so we decided to skip dessert.
The food and the ambiance at Vella were excellent. It’s a great place to go for a low key, summer, small plates dinner. I do have to mention though that the service level could use a boost. I love a leisurely dinner, but it would have been wonderful to have our order more promptly taken and our water glasses regularly refilled. When you have to ask multiple times for a single water refill, it gets a little annoying. I’m recommending this restaurant because it has everything going for it – an interested menu, great food, location, lots of outdoor seating – and I hope that they get their staffing issues figured out soon.
Check out my ratings at a glance below and share in the comments if you have ever been to Vella and if so, your menu recommendations. If you have never been, do you plan to go or do you have any similar wine bars (in or out of NYC) that you love?
Area – Upper East Side, Manhattan
Recommendation – Small plates, wine, cocktails
Cuisine – Italian with French and American influences, Seafood
Volume – Medium Loud
Bar Seating – Yes
Outdoor Seating – Yes
Nice Ambiance – Yes
Price - $$
Atmosphere - Casual
Perfect for – casual dinner with a date, friends
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