Nello’s immoderate prices — specials can cost hundreds of dollars, and many online reviews have complained of sticker shock — have made it a bastion for the city’s upper crust. It has been the background of many paparazzi photos and has made frequent appearances on Page Six, The New York Post’s gossip column.
Time has not softened the restaurant’s appeal. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest child, spent Valentine’s Day at Nello last year, and the cast of “The Real Housewives of New York” filmed a scene at the eatery that was broadcast in May.
Yet Nello’s glitzy trappings and hefty price tag have not, apparently, matched the caliber of Nello’s food. In a New York Times review of the restaurant in 2010, Sam Sifton offered the rather plain assessment that “the food is not very good,” describing dishes as tasting like “shirt cardboard” and “sliced shoe.”
Mr. Sifton gave the restaurant zero stars, but did note its clublike atmosphere. “The restaurant’s customer base is built of the richest and most coddled people in the city, who love it for its elegance and, perhaps, simplicity,” he wrote.
On Friday, Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority, said inspectors found patrons sitting inside Nello, a violation of regulations in place since March that forbid indoor dining.
A waiter at the restaurant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the news media, said that inspectors took issue with two tables set up at the edge of the restaurant where its doors open onto the street.
The waiter, who said he was there when inspectors arrived, said Nello had been told twice this month that the tables were consistent with state guidelines.
Mr. Crowley disputed that account, saying that the eight customers were clearly seated indoors.