If there is one thing about New York City dining this time of year that can get quite tiresome quite quickly, it is the pressure to have to eat outdoors. Restaurants trick us into thinking they were made for en-plein-air eating by cramming a row or few of wobbly tables on a cracked sidewalk abutting a sewer line. Friends fall for it and urge us to take part: “The weather’s so nice, let’s eat outside!” But San Diego we are not. Nor are we Paris, even. Our elements aren’t as forgiving year-round, and our boulevards aren’t as expansive. Wait, we don’t even have boulevards. No, instead we have narrow streets and avenues, hot pavement that’s perpetually being jackhammered or in disrepair, and an untiring traffic grid of taxis, Ubers, ambulances, fire trucks, livery drivers, commuters, and bikers (whose expanding access on the roads continues to squeeze out whatever precious space there was to begin with). We’re congested, we’re polluted, and we’re under ardent assault by sirens. I’ve had the taste of my tagine of chicken ruined one time too many by a passing street sweeper to ever want to sit outside again, thank you.
Now, however, there’s a happy choice for those craving a taste of the outdoors for dinner: Alta Linea, the Chelsea-based Italian hotspot that’s been conceived as an expressly al-fresco eatery. Occupying the front courtyard and garden of the High Line Hotel, Alta Linea is a seasonal pop-up from Epicurean Group, known for other downtown favorites dell’anima, L’Artusi, L’Apicio, and Anfora. With more than sufficient space (especially in comparison to the contrived window-hugging pens eked out of pedestrian pathways elsewhere), green hedges blocking out (more or less) any hint of hurried street life on the other side of the fence, a manicured garden of pretty purples and greens, and white graveling that feels somewhat like the Jardin des Tuileries under your feet, this is how outdoor dining should be.
Executive beverage director Joe Campanale brings the Italian culture of apertivi to the heart of West Chelsea with a beverage menu that recalls summer along the Amalfi Coast (or Via Veneto, at least). Reclining on a comfy, striped pillow that could have been plucked from the summer clubhouse or yacht—with Aperol spritz in hand—you’ll be fast to forget office politics and deadlines that loom beyond the shrubbery. At Alta Linea, a European sensibility keeps things decidedly cool, relaxed, and unfrenzied. The frozen negroni—dangerously good—is sure to keep the clubby bar on one whole side of the garden hopping.
Ample (and amply appetizing) small plates complement the apertivi cocktail culture at Alta Linea. Crispy artichokes seem to be all the rage on menus these days, but that’s no reason to skip them here. The burrata is creamy enough to melt your stress away in the first bite (just be sure to place your order before the sun goes down, lest you be told they’ve run out for the evening). Pork meatball polenta with bacon, tomato, and parmesan is rich and savory enough to carry you through several cocktails, though the fritto misto of calamari and rock shrimp with lemon aioli can be a bit too fritto for the salt-averse.
Secondi, or main dishes, are sparse, but cover most of the food groups: a branzino cooked in paper, an herb-roasted chicken, and a burger that’s arguably the best of this bunch. You could almost skip the secondi altogether and keep dabbing at the plentiful spreads on the flatbread plate (the cannellini with smoked paprika should be bottled and sold separately). If you’re indulging a fantasy of being somewhere slightly more Mediterranean, order one of the Italian rosés or the Ribolla Gialla and savor the “Borough Market” grilled cheese sandwich (mixing white cheddar and Gruyère) along with the grilled summer beans salad (with a delectable preserved-lemon vinaigrette, chilies, feta, pine nuts, and mint). After all, nothing says summer quite like summer bean salad—or a vintage gelato cart, with housemade gelati and sorbetti available by the scoop or in ice cream sandwiches. Now that’s summer dining worthy of a “salute!”