Rustic-Chic Italian Restaurant Opens on the Upper East Side

By DNAinfo Staff on November 15, 2013 10:46am

UPPER EAST SIDE — A high-end Flatiron Italian restaurant that closed in in the spring has gotten a new lease on life on East 78th Street — ditching fine dining for comfort food and a casual environment.

Cucina Ciano opened Monday in a light-filled space at 181 E. 78th St., after abruptly shuttering on East 22nd Street back in April. Owners Stratis Morfogen and Unik Ernest tweaked the concept to create a more casual dining experience than at the former location.

“What I wanted was a stripped-down version of the old Ciano,” said Morfogen, who's lived on the Upper East Side for the past 25 year. “That was a special events space for birthdays and anniversaries. Here, I want people to feel like they can come in every day.”

Fans of the original Ciano will find some of the same dishes on the menu. However, Shea Gallante, the chef whose work earned praise at the Flatiron restaurant, is not involved with this new iteration.

Tin Huynh, who served as Gallante’s sous chef at Ciano, is at the helm of the new kitchen. He has added his own touch to the menu, which he described as a sophisticated take on Italian comfort food.

“Flatiron was much more about fine dining,” Huynh said. “Here it’s comfort. If you want to come in for Veal Parmigiana, you can. We would never have served that at the old place.”

Crowd favorites so far have included the balsamic glazed octopus salad and the chicken meatballs, Huynh said.

Morfogen made sure to incorporate one popular element of the old Ciano into his new restaurant. Every night, the eatery features eight to 10 bottles of wine that are normally only available by the bottle and offers them as half bottles. This allows diners to sample rare wines and purchase wines that may otherwise be out of their price range.

Ciano's rustic-chic interior fits perfectly with this concept of accessible sophistication. Exposed brick walls and a warm, wooden bar are brightened by an orange leather banquette that wraps around the room.

Downstairs, a wood-paneled “secret dining room” pulls double duty as a wine cellar and private party area. Former Vogue editor Filipa Fino, who is married to Morfogen, designed the space.

The owner, who previously found success with upscale Chinese restaurant Phillipe, said his insider status helped him know exactly what kind of restaurant would work in his neighborhood.

“Upper East Siders, it doesn’t matter how wealthy they are— what they want is an unpretentious environment. Look at J.G. Mellon,” he said, referring to the popular hamburger joint. “That’s what I wanted, a neighborhood place.”

Cucina Ciano serves dinner every night beginning at 5 p.m. and will soon offer lunch and brunch hours.

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