Restaurant of the Week: Elizabeth

Erica Cerulo

NoLita thrives on its chic casualness. Star restaurants, like Café Habana and Cafe Gitane, are sunny, laid-back and unapologetically posh. But the overhaul of the former '90s mainstay Rialto to create Elizabeth has eschewed the décor of its neighbors, favoring espresso wood and leather, stylized black chandeliers and regal jade paint. And the result is hardly inviting -- a real shame considering that the food from Chef John Iconomou (formerly of Country) is. Past this contrived, speakeasy-esque space, though, is what will become the place's savior: its back patio, which is welcoming with its clutter of potted plants, simple marble tables, worn-in brick walls and, most important, retractable roof to keep it thriving year-round. In these airy surroundings, the small plates feel right at home, like head-on prawns with chive aioli ($13), watermelon salad with feta, olives, and mache ($10) and ricotta ravioli with fava beans ($12). If you get swept away by the glossy interior and the overwrought drink list, the menu will probably lack the inventiveness you expect. See: a pork tenderloin and potato latke dish ($14) that is more sacrilegious than brave. To achieve the hot-spot status of its predecessor, getting a graffiti artist to spray "GARDEN OUT BACK" on its façade would be a good place to start. 265 Elizabeth St., (212) 334-2426.

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