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The PreCritic

[The PreCritic?'s task: To eat at just-opened restaurants, rendering short, hasty judgement before the kitchen is established or the servers prepared.]

Where: VENTO, Steve Hanson's new Meatpacking District Italian [75 Hudson Street @ 14th St, 212-699-2400]
When: May 4, 2004 (13 days after official opening)

What: Hand it to Steve Hanson: the guy knows how to open a restaurant. Just two weeks after opening, Vento was all systems go. The space, wedged into a triangle-shaped building, fills two levels (three, if you count nightclub Level V in the basement). It's what dining in the Flatiron Building would be like if they evicted Sprint PCS. Like most Hanson restaurants, Vento is built for volume?the dining room upstairs stretches on to the horizon?but the kitchen manages to keep up, and, thanks to headsets, so does the staff. The Italian food was reminiscent of that at Fiamma, his Soho three-star eatery; pork loin with kale, a brand new menu addition ($21), was perfect. One scary aside: the front door is on direct axis with Soho House across the street (see photo, right). Though it's unclear exactly what this portends, it can't be good.
The PreCritic? initiates coverage with a rating of LONG-TERM OUTPERFORM.

[more photos inside]

Photo above is Level V, the downstairs lounge.