Some places are nice to visit, just not for the obvious reason. Gallery openings might have interesting art on display, but plenty of people just go for free wine and to potentially meet someone with a house in Sag Harbor. Pumpkin patches seem like places you’d go to buy pumpkins, but you actually go to show the world how you and your significant other have such a good relationship. Gran Tivoli is a sit-down restaurant, but you should really use it for drinks and snacks rather than a full dinner.
This Italian spot in Nolita, which is from a team behind some popular places in Australia, has an atmosphere that will appeal to regulars at nearby restaurants like Lure Fishbar, The Dutch, and Balthazar. There’s a wood bar that runs more than half the length of the dining room, and between the acoustic jazz, bow-tied bartenders, and long shelves of brown liquor, it feels kind of like a speakeasy. The long, narrow space is pretty dark, and has a bunch of round booths perfect for groups. There’s even a great cocktail bar (Peppi’s Cellar) down a flight of stairs at the back, which provides excellent people-watching for anyone sitting in the dining room and watching the steady stream of well-dressed crowds walking by.
But we’d only recommend a full dinner at Gran Tivoli if you’re more interested in a fun atmosphere than great food. The Italian dishes here, especially the large plates - pastas, entrees, and various cuts of steak - range from things that are perfectly fine but forgettable, to a few we didn’t actually want to finish. For example, the buckwheat ravioli are half submerged in a pool of melted butter (and don’t taste like much other than that), and the gnocchi could similarly use a lifeboat to keep from drowning in blue cheese sauce. And two things we generally enjoy - New York sirloin and bone marrow - are served together in what should be the happiest marriage since Morticia and Gomez, but the steak is tough and over-charred, and the bone marrow adds nothing as a condiment on a really thick cut of meat.
The small plates are a lot more enjoyable, and they make Gran Tivoli a good option for after-work meetups, when you can share a few things with a friend after realizing your martinis are being soaked up by nothing but a slice of birthday cake you found in the office kitchen. Get the black bass carpaccio that’s light and a bit spicy, or the cheesy polenta that’s topped with lots of crab meat. And no matter what else you eat here, make sure to order the prosciutto. It’s a generous portion that comes with a ball of mozzarella, as well as disks of lard bread that taste as great as you’d imagine bread made with lard would.
Gran Tivoli is one of the few restaurants in this part of the city that’s attractive and upscale, but also not stuffy - which is a big part of the reason why it’s packed almost every night. And while there are a bunch of places in Soho and Nolita where you might like people to think you hang out all the time, Gran Tivoli is a place where you actually can. Just think of it more as a nice spot for drinks and snacks than anything else. Kind of like a gallery opening.
When a restaurant charges for bread, it can feel like having to pay your building’s super to fix the flickering hallway light, but that’s not the case here. This basket includes three different types of bread and some salty butter, and it’s definitely worth the $5.
At $23, this is a fairly expensive appetizer, but the polenta is topped with a ton of crab meat. The polenta itself isn’t too rich or cheesy, and plays more of a backup role, so only get this if you really like crab. But definitely get this if you really like crab.
If you’re sharing a few small plates with someone at the bar, this should be one of them. The zucchini and mint don’t really add much, but the calamari is tender and has a good meat-to-breading ratio, and it’s a solid amount of food for $14.
This dish includes a huge portion of not-too-salty prosciutto, a ball of mozzarella topped with black pepper, and pieces of lard bread that taste like buttery biscuits. Not surprisingly, cured ham, mozzarella, and biscuits work really well together, and this is our favorite small plate here.
This has too many sour strawberries and not enough beets, so the whole thing tastes way too acidic.
If you want something light, get this carpaccio instead. The slices of black bass are meaty and have a lot of flavor, and they’re balanced out by some spicy chilis and slices of clementine.
Even if you really like blue cheese (like we do), you probably don’t want to eat spoonful after spoonful of it. That’s what this dish tastes like, thanks to the pool of blue cheese sauce at the bottom of the plate.
This is a ton of food, and size-wise would be a decent share plate for a group of three or four. But there’s not much flavor from the hake and monkfish, so it essentially ends up tasting like a lot of creamy rice.
It turns out there is such a thing as too much butter, and this plate of ravioli drowning in brown butter is how we know.
If you do come here for a full dinner, this needs to be on your table. The massive slab of veal is juicy and has a nice, crispy breading, and it’s topped with anchovies and chilis to give it some salt and spice. There’s an option to add a couple runny eggs on top, but it’s not really an option - you need to do it.
We had high hopes for this piece of NY sirloin with bone marrow on the side, but the thick steak is tough and chewy, and you can’t taste the bone marrow on top.
The extremely fatty pork belly comes wrapped around bread stuffing, over some mashed vegetables. Those things don’t add much flavor, and overall this is the least enjoyable dish here.