Cozy atmosphere + Simply prepared food with mind-blowing flavor + Well-edited list of unusual wines + Incredibly knowledgeable staff who love food and wine as much as I do.

This is my formula for a great restaurant experience and Sfoglia, the year-and-a-half-old Upper East Side restaurant I’d been trying to eat at for the past month (reservations, as Frank Bruni frustratingly notes in his review, are impossible!) got it exactly right. The last-minute reservation was completely serendipitous. My friend missed his train into the city and wouldn’t be arriving until 9:30 p.m. so I called Sfoglia on a whim and they said they could take us at the bar. When we arrived, a last-minute cancellation meant we had a prized rustic farmhouse table.

Upon reviewing the all-Italian wine list, a white from Alto Adige immediately caught my eye. While all of the other wines listed a varietal—some well known, some esoteric Italian grapes—this wine’s varietal was “????.” A mistake? When I asked our amazing waitress, Beth, she told me I was the first person to ever ask about the line of question marks and, no, it was not a mistake. The producer, Elena Walch, refuses to share what grapes she uses. Sfoglia’s online wine list replaces the “????” with “Beyond the Clouds,” the name Ms. Walch has given her mystery wine. The restaurant’s general manager later informed me that the staff at Sfoglia believes the wine in question is predominantly Chardonnay. My own sleuthing on Ms. Walch’s website shed more light, describing the bottle as “A superb wine made using several classic South Tyrolean white grape varieties.”

I was intrigued but, alas, at $95 a bottle it would not be what we were drinking that night. We instead settled on a stellar Montepulciano to complement our perfect meal. I sopped up every last drop of the broth from the wild mussels, tomato, garlic, salami and fennel pollen with the addictive bread (a combination of focaccia and ciabatta), and my friend called me last night to say he was still thinking of the vibrantly flavorful sauce on the scialatelli with roasted cherry tomatoes, bottarga di muggine, parsley, garlic. We were among the last to leave, indulging in the house-made limoncello and a fat berry tart for dessert. I am already thinking of my next return, and the general manager was nice enough to give me a few tips for getting that ever elusive reservation:
1. Call a month in advance (or more—I overheard the hostess telling a customer they are already booked through September).
2. Be willing to eat before 6 or after 9 p.m.
3. Be spontaneous. There is always a chance of last-minute cancellations.
4. Ask for a reservation at the bar—an equally enjoyable dining experience.
5. Try the Nantucket location post–Labor Day – it stays open year-round.