Hunger at The Leopard

Stepping into The Leopard at des Artistes from the chilly, quiet sidewalk is a serious New York experience. The lively scents, the bustling and confident white-shirts, the candlelight with the classic peeking nudes resident Howard Chandler Christy painted in a luscious garden of earthly and earthy delights- that is The Leopard at what once was Cafe des Artistes.

I warn you, readers: do not come in to rush out, seeking immediate taste-oriented gratification. The staff is completely willing to serve the best of the kitchen, but the pace is leisurely, so prepare to enjoy your conversation, your wine, and the art. If you rush, the experience will not be what it was designed for, and The Leopard will not be to blame. Gather your peace, savor the delectable, crunchy herb sticks they will place before your hungry eyes, and await a meal much like the one you see on your neighbor’s table. In the meantime, check out who your neighbor might be- there are people of interesting character and notable celebrity scattered corner to corner, if not stacked chair by chair.

The menu is small, and specialized, with each dish crafted in layers of pleasure to sink and rise as you absorb the scene at large. Gustatory satisfaction will meet you at some point during your meal, as a result of the careful form of production the food itself receives. There is a wait for a reason: the food will be served properly, and that takes time. That said, the eggplant and smoked buffalo mozzarella timbale is a tender, zesty, superbly savory pleasure. The spicy sauce was not overwhelmingly hot- just enough to offset the luxurious blend of warm cheese and the sweet vegetable. To be frank, every bite I took made me smile

Entrees are beautifully prepared and -interestingly- not garnished: the food is completely intended for your hearty consumption from one end of the plate to the other, and top to bottom. The porchetta with rapini is a devotional combination, filled with a melody of herbs on a bed of delectable, buttery juice- it is not a meal for the faint of heart. In all seriousness- I do not recommend it for people who are, in any way, in wavering health, unless Death by Happy Belly is your preference.

On a personal note, towards the end of the experience, I feared not being able to last until dessert- so filling was the meal itself. I caught a waiter half-way through the porchetta and asked for his service: I needed a dessert menu, stat. With a toothy smile and an upraised pointer, he obliged. Within minutes three gorgeous plates of artful sweet-treats were served.

The final step: a dark, uber-rich chocolate lava cake with mint sauce and vanilla gelato, an apple tartlette with gelato and caramel sauce, and the master of all, as far as I am concerned- a petite mound of cheesecake served with a piquant cherry bourbon sauce and smooth, creamy limoncello gelato. I do believe this finale had us giggling- my friend whispered excitedly: “this is the best cheesecake I have ever had. Seriously. I’m so happy right now.”

And is that not the point of dining out? Is happiness not the reason we wander out of our homes and onto the streets with friends, family, and lovers of all kinds? If The Leopard can make diners happy by being beautiful, delicious, and having genuinely kind servers (as they do- take note), my recommendation is with them. Buon appetito!

The Leopard at des Artistes: 1 West 67 Street between Central Park West & Columbus

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