Cigar Aficionado

San Pietro, New York City

Cigars in sunny Midtown Manhattan when the weather is fair.

It's not easy anymore to have a fine meal in New York City and finish with a drink and a cigar, all while sitting at the same table, but sunny skies and warm weather present an opportunity. Strike while the pan is hot, so to speak, and take a cigar for outdoor dining.

San Pietro, which is located in the middle of Manhattan, provides a chance to enjoy the great outdoors with a spacious patio dining area that is a half-block hop from prime cigar dealer Davidoff Madison Avenue. No themes or spectacles in the atmosphere, decor or the food, the restaurant is all about the basics and enjoyment of the finer things in cooking and wine. And management has a soft spot for the cigar smoker, which is about all a New York restaurant is allowed.

The owners of San Pietro, the brother team of Gerardo, Antonio and Cosimo Bruno, strive to be authentic. They return to their home region of Campania twice a year to scout local products such as cheese, wine, oils, sardines and produce for the restaurant -- a practice they have been doing since the establishment opened in 1992. Their family has an estate in Salerno, which produces its own brand of extra virgin olive oil as well as cherry tomatoes; both are sold in the restaurant.

Located on East 54th Street between Madison and Fifth, San Pietro's neighborhood does not have the feel of a country kitchen. You have the unending flow of pedestrians and traffic that is typical of Midtown New York City and hard to avoid, especially for the lunch crowd. However, the food is a departure from the congestion, and the street, while busy, has a certain intimacy.

The dishes are light and basic in most cases, not laden with heavy sauces, and have unique flavors stemming from San Pietro's importation of 85 percent of its ingredients from various parts of southern Italy. The unique recipes are inspired by dishes served in antique Roman times.

The smoker tables are spaced out enough that you won't feel crowded next to nonsmokers. The outdoor area can seat approximately 55 people. Adhering to New York law, 25 percent can be made available to smokers. So, if there is a run of aficionados at the restaurant that day you may be out of luck. There was a proper smoking section inside five years ago, and then it was moved to the bar for a year, until Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office and did away with interior smoking.

John Dory fish

Choose from a 500-bottle Wine Spectator magazine "best of award of excellence" winning wine list that draws from Sicily, Campania and Tuscany and enjoy pasta, seafood, pork, veal, steak and poultry dishes that won't weigh you down and are bursting with a taste of the Amalfi Coast. The John Dory fish pulled from the Mediterranean and braised with garlic and thyme, served with baked fennel and hazelnut, was light on the palate and on the stomach with a myriad of complementary flavors, and the caponata with bufala mozzarella and balsamic vinegar served at room temperature is a tangy fresh taste with a hint of capers. After the meal, you have your choice of fine spirits, and the restaurant has a variety of cigars, approximately 100 available. They try a new cigar variety every week. You can choose from San Pietro's list or bring your own.

Sitting back with a fine whiskey and a freshly clipped premium cigar, filled up with old-world-style cooking, some may yearn for the dramatic views of the southern Italian countryside. While it would be nice to be there, taking advantage of an outdoor cigar after a fine meal in the city that never sleeps is something to be relished before the winter freeze blows out your cigar and forces you indoors.



San Pietro Ristorante
8 East 54 Street
New York, NY 10022
Phone: 212-753-9015
Open six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
Lunch: 12 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Dinner: 4 p.m. to 10:45 p.m.
Entrées start at $22

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