Everyone in Tribeca has watched Robert DeNiro’s hotel come to life over a 5 year period.  The doors finally opened last week.  Ago, is the hotel restaurant where we had dinner last night. 

The restaurant was packed.  The look is country Italian.  Old wooden tables, very family style in feel.  Fred and I walked into the lobby to see what they had done.   There are two lounge type rooms, one in the main room where you check in and another in the back which has a large outdoor atrium that connects the room and restaurant to each other.  Currently they are having a soft opening but once the hotel opens the rooms will be for patrons only. 

There is definitely a feel of being in an old country house.  Lots of windows and wood at different heights with big glass chandaliers.  The walls are decorated with art from DeNiro’s father who is an artist.  The decor is bland.  There is something generic about the whole place.  It as if they haven’t finished the place yet.  Different sittings areas from couches to chairs.  Nothing really matches but in some way it works.  That feeling of an old country house that has acquired furniture over the year.  Maybe it is the lack of lots of art on the walls, the lack of pillows, bowls, etc.  It as if the decorator ran out of money after the furniture was ordered.  Just a few large palm ferns in the corners.  Really feels like a bland Hilton although the furniture is obviously high end stuff.  Strange.

There are two rooms at Ago.  We were in the back room which I would request when you make reservations.  That room takes you away from the hotel and I like that.  Even though the noise was loud, you could hear everyone at your table which is a bonus.  The staff is still trying to get it together but it works.  One guy took drink orders for only half the table and left so we had to flag down another person to finish our order.  Each waiter has the Italian accent and appears to have just arrived in NYC which seems to be part of the charm in all the old school Italian restaurants around the city.

The food, is classic Italian and really good.  I certainly got the taste of many items last night and truth is, you really can’t go wrong.  I started with the raw baby artichoke salad.  Thin slices of artichoke on the plate covered with a handful of frisee and shaved Parmigiano over the top doused with a lemon dressing.  Simple and tasty.  The lemon dressing gave the salad a nice zing.  I also had a bite of the octopus salad.  Slices of steamed octopus which made the octopus like butter that was served with boiled potatoes and crispy string beans tossed with olive oil.  Delicious.  A tiny portion of eggplant parmigiana is also available.  A nice simple tomato sauce over eggplant that has been deep fried and stacked with mozzarella cheese served crispy and browned on top.  There was also a special of chopped tuna tartare served with crispy toast.  A huge serving of tuna that was really top grade.  The tuna was more like a blended mixture than chunks, almost like eating tuna pate.  The best, hands down, was a pan roasted quail served over stewed lentils and lardo.  Wow.  The lentils had lots of flavor and the quail was small and tasty.  The two together worked well.

We went for the classic Italian feast of 3 courses.  We split the second round.  We had a La Bianca pizza.  Crispy thin crust with melted mozzarella and arugula and fresh cherry tomatoes on top with a little shaved Parmigiano cheese.  Delicious.  We also split the special cantaloni which was stuffed with cheese and a little red sauce over the top.  Served hot with cheese oozing out of the sides, bubbling and browned.  A treat.  We also split the green cappelletti pastas which were stuffed with veal with a butter sage sauce.  Unfortunately they were a bit cold when they got to the table so they were a little chewy.

For dinner I went with the Branzino.  A piece of Branzino fish on top of circular roasted potatoes that were quite browned with chopped tomatoes around the plate.  The fish was well cooked but the presentation and the rest was just okay.  I do like how everything is served really browned.  Someone had the grilled wild Salmon that was also well cooked and very tasty served with a caper pesto and chopped lettuce.  The Tuscan style seafood soup was top.  Really flavorful with large pieces of seafood.  More seafood than soup.  A winner.  The classic Milanese, breaded pounded veal chop with arugula and tomatoes on top was also good.  Crispy and flavorful.

For dessert we had some berries and sorbets.  They add the 20% gratuity to the bill if there are 6 people or more so no thoughts on tips which I sort of like.  Very European. 

I was impressed for a place that has only been open for a little over a week.  Classic Italian restaurants are abundant on the Upper East side but not downtown.  A nice addition.  The food is simple.  They are not reinventing the wheel but churning out good food from mama’s kitchen from the old country.  It wasn’t that everything or anything for that matter was omigod but it was just really good and you can’t beat that.  I will be back.