Hmm. My favorite Italian chef in NY, Cesare Casella, isn’t cooking anywhere right now, to my knowledge. Scott Conant isn’t working anywhere either, nor is Gabe Thompson. You should probably check out one of Sara Jenkins’ restaurants on the LES - casual, but she’s very much an essential NY chef. I haven’t been to A Voce since Missy Robbins left but I know they brought in someone with credentials to replace her, and her new place is out in Williamsburg. I haven’t been to Barbuto in years, but that used to be one of the better places. Obviously Locanda Verde isn’t bad.
Part of the issue is that Italian food is so integrated into NY food that it’s hard to draw the line between an Italian restaurant and a NY restaurant, except that the names of Italian restaurants end with a vowel. Is Charlie Bird Italian? Is Bruno or Little Park Italian?
Honestly it’s just Marea and then which neighborhood/setting do you prefer? The problem is that Ai Fiori is in the worst neighborhood - still gets an expense crowd, so expensive, but not in an area known for its food.