The eccentrically punctuated Bär-bõ-né (vaguely evoking its Avenue B location) is ostensibly Italian, and the menu bears out the claim – antipasti, primi, secondi – but there is something unmistakably different about the place. The pasta is a little denser than one is used to, the flavors a little earthier, the presentation paradoxically more stylish. What I detected from the first was something indefinably Balkan in the character of the food – it reminded me, somehow, of Trio, a midtown Croatian restaurant that used to serve up dishes that one normally thinks of as Italian. It turned out on inquiry that the impresario of Bär-bõ-né was the portly Albanian who can be seen nightly enticing passersby into what I now feel secure in calling an Adriatic restaurant.

I am not the only one who counts this place as a favorite: among the pleasures of frequenting Bär-bõ-né is speculating on the identity of the other diners. Is that a reunion of classmates at that table? a cadre of business associates over there? a young couple with the in-laws there? isn’t that the late Tim Russert’s son talking politics with, who is that anyway – the face is so familiar!? and look, surely it’s ex-NYC detective and cable TV talking head Bo Dietl holding court at that table full of sports, legal and financial luminaries?

Yet the prices are not so very high end by Manhattan standards and you are welcomed warmly by Alberto,  the effusive Albanian, no matter who you are. The staff is unfailingly charming and the food close to perfect. The worst thing about Bär-bõ-né is the impossible decisions one has to make looking at the menu and knowing that you cannot, possibly, ever go wrong, ever.

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