A few weeks ago, my roommate and I went out to dinner on the Upper East Side before the semester ended. Earlier in the year, I bought a Groupon for a restaurant called Il Tesoro. The elegant Italian restaurant is located at 82nd Street and 1st Avenue, and is a short walk from the 1st Avenue bus stop on the M79 Crosstown bus, the 77th Street stop on the 6 line and the 86th Street stop on the 4, 5, and 6 lines.
Italian food is usually tricky with a dairy allergy, but their online menu specifically advises guests to inform servers of food allergies. It’s always comforting to see a restaurant being proactive about their food allergies. This statement and the great price from Groupon convinced me to check it out. Before you go, I suggest that you call for reservations or book a table via OpenTable because the restaurant is sometimes closed for private parties.
The interior of the restaurant is very plush and very dim. The chairs have actual cushions on top of the cushioned seat and the tables are slightly higher than normal. Everything was very comfortable although everything was a little hard to see, as you can probably tell from the photos. We were by far the youngest of the customers, and Bear was too shy to take more than a few photos.
The menu lists dishes in Italian with English descriptions and the waitstaff brought us bread with olive oil and vinegar whilst we perused the options. (NOTE: The two of us got different kinds of bread, so make sure you ask about the bread ingredients so that you can get the non-dairy version!)
When I informed our waiter of my food allergies, he adamantly acknowledged, “Yes, all dairy!” The manager was behind him, encouraging me to order whatever I wanted. “We can do anything you like,” he said. I finally decided on the penne scampi, making sure that they could make it sans cheese, butter, etc. When our food came out, everything was beautifully arranged; though you can’t really tell from the photos, Il Tesoro gets two paws up for presentation!
Whenever I try a new dish or food, I wait at least ten or fifteen minutes after the first bite, in case of a delayed reaction. If my food has even traces of allergens, my throat often starts to swell or I will develop hives or puffy eyelids. Such was the case with Il Tesoro; after my first few bites, my throat immediately felt tight and I became suspicious.
I flagged down our waiter and he reassured me that there was no dairy in it at all. I was momentarily at a lost. I didn’t want to make a scene, of course, but I didn’t want to continue eating unsafe food. (Sometimes I am hungry enough that I will continue eating food that seems suspicious but it is always a bad idea.) Moments later, our waiter came and whisked away my plate with many apologies and no explanations.
I took a Benadryl to counteract my tight throat and itching, and soon our waiter came back offering us more apologies and a fresh plate. The original plate, he informed us, had “just a touch of cream” in it but this new plate was completely allergen-free. He insisted that we let him know if we needed anything at all. The manager was behind him again, repeating, “Buon appetito!”
The pasta was very flavorful—enough so to overpower the taste of vanilla mint Benadryl! I’m not usually a huge fan of lemon in my pasta but it was delicious with the shrimp and the garlic. The portions were very generous and are definitely large enough for two people. My roommate ended up taking half her short ribs and gnocchi home for another meal. We were so full that we decided to not even look at dessert!
NOTE about the pricing: Il Tesoro is on the pricey side for us poor college students and as you can see, I’ve tagged it under the “$$$$” category of “get someone else to take you.” (Or perhaps, “get a Groupon to this restaurant.”)
Under some circumstances, the “touch of cream” mishap would have completely ruined my night. However, the waitstaff was so friendly and willing to check and double-check my food that my initial worries dissolved eventually. I am often too shy to insist on double-checking, but obviously it is very important and I will be doing that more often. Better safe than sorry!
The elegance of the restaurant complemented a long conversation about Classical mythology and Columbia and the Groupon made an expensive meal affordable. For a final night in New York (at least until the spring semester), Il Tesoro did not disappoint!