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Italienne: A Little Italy and a Dash of France in the Flatiron

Jared Sippel is a patient man. To wit: The Iowa-born chef — with a decade and a half of experience living and cooking around the U.S. and southern France under his belt — waited nearly four years to assume command of his own kitchen in New York City. Recruited in 2013 to run a restaurant within the midtown Manhattan location of the Brooklyn Fare supermarket that never panned out, Sippel sought a new partnership after a year of twiddling his thumbs. When that project also fizzled out, he set off to captain his own ship.

You won’t need to exercise that kind of perseverance and self-restraint at Italienne, which Sippel opened in November a block or so west of Madison Square Park after two years of construction and numerous delays. Co-owner and general manager James King keeps things operating with polished efficiency and cordial concentration in the sprawling, glossily rustic space, even as the wood-and-white-hexagonal-tile-lined “taverna” area teems with boisterous throngs of well-dressed professionals crowding its white marble-topped bar. A cherry-red Berkel prosciutto slicer stationed up front gleams like a sports car on display, next to a broad counter that holds superlative breakfast treats (flaky, feathery croissants; twisty sugared puff pastry batons known as sacristains) from pastry chef Rebecca Isbell in the morning and massive rounds of organic parmigiano-reggiano at dinner. The old-fashioned machine’s hand-cranked wheels spin fast throughout the night, ensuring that cured meats ($25 for three, $40 for five) — whorls of paper-thin mortadella, locally made air-dried beef prosciutto, and genuinely translucent slips of lardo — appear within minutes of ordering.

Your fancy cold cuts arrive with chewy whole-grain toast from cult Kings County bakers the Brooklyn Bread Lab. And should you feel particularly ritzy under the bar’s hanging braided rope lamps and high ceilings, you can curl up with in-house cheesemonger Kathleen Serino’s offerings, including a sampling of three stages of that parmigiano-reggiano with 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Small nibbles (think $11 oil-cured vegetables, $4 arancini, and $9 anchovy or chicken liver toasts) join the salumeria fare as ideal complements to drinks, whether one of Travis Oler’s stiff digestivo-forward cocktails, like the “Febbraio in Friuli,” which uses that region’s Amaro Nonino with Jamaican rum and allspice liqueur, or a bottle chosen by wine director Erica O’Neal, who, like King, knows Sippel from his time at Boulder, Colorado’s Friulian fine-dining destination Frasca Food and Wine.

French for “Italian,” Italienne is the 35-year-old chef’s love letter to a confluent region that encompasses southern France, northern Italy, and the Alps, Sippel’s passion having been stoked by his experiences working and traveling in Provence and beyond. He in turn is a generous sharer, kindly giving customers multiple ways to appreciate his team’s efforts. Grazers will find plenty to like among the share plates on the taverna’s casual à la carte menu, including Comté cauliflower gratin (speckled with black truffle on one visit, ruddy from curry powder the next), buttery blue-corn polenta with sautéed mushrooms, and an entire knotted orb of burrata cheese afloat on a raft of jammy, sweet-sour summer bell pepper preserves. You should also make a point to save some table space for Sippel’s incredible heirloom bean stew ($13) fortified with peverada, an earthy Venetian sauce made with chicken livers. And while there are composed entrées, like a $33 Scottish sea trout in a pool of vermouth butter, and pizzas that pair pork with everything from cranberry mostarda (prosciutto) to grilled broccoli (guanciale), don’t pass up dedicated pasta maker Lauren Ross’s gorgeous creations and other gluten-y delights — crescent-shaped casoncelli sprinkled with fried sage and pancetta, say, or the Teutonic-derived bread-and-cabbage dumplings known as canederli, which here play host to a harmonious concert of sweet apple and bracing horseradish.

In the recessed, softly lit main dining room, Sippel and his crew put together a formal four-course prix-fixe that runs $98 and incorporates all manner of fashionable haute-cuisine trappings, like a tuxedoed floor manager, a roving amaro cart, and the lacy Provençal bread called fougasse, made in house, which arrives at the table hanging from a standing hook and smelling of the olives kneaded inside. You might find caviar and sweetbreads lurking among the list of “beginnings,” and expectedly, Ross gets a bit more intricate with her pasta dough work here, fashioning corkscrews of trofie to go with a seafood sauce based on bouillabaisse and pinching together large cheese tortelloni that the kitchen matches with crunchy hazelnuts and cardoon honey. Of the former, which are hand-rolled Ligurian noodles, Sippel tells the Voice that in addition to orange zest and chopped mussels and clams, he finishes the plate with garlic oil and pickled green garlic, “to give it that punch” bouillabaisse typically gets from its aioli-slathered crostini. Greenmarket discoveries find their way into main courses — witness the nutty tubers, known as crosnes, Sippel serves alongside a snowy, flaky loup de mer — though a premium is still put on indulgences like foie gras, here gussying up a dish of milk-fed chicken with cranberries and chestnuts.

Luckily, no matter which room you’re seated in, you can end your meal with Isbell’s whimsical desserts. Working from a station in the back of the formal dining room, she’s a sneaky pastry whiz, which in the taverna translates to crackly-topped brioche and a gorgeous frosted citrus–poppy seed cake hiding a layer of tart curd. In the dining room, peaty Laphroaig whisky sends a jolt through the île flottante, but it’s her “torchon” that actually shocks. Designed to look like a puck of foie gras, the oat-infused Bavarian cream is shot through with ribbons of brown-butter chocolate cookie and every bit as splurge-worthy as the stuff that gets animal-rights activists in a tizzy. A rose by any other name, it would no doubt make a splash in the old country.

Italienne
19 West 24th Street, 212-600-5139
italiennenyc.com

 

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A Chat With the Team Behind LaRina Pastificio & Vino’s Thoughtful Italian Fare

There’s something special about a neighborhood restaurant opened by neighborhood people… like friends who walked down Myrtle Avenue one night after work and looked around and thought, “I could add something here.” That’s pretty much how LaRina Pastificio & Vino (387 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-852-0001) came about — albeit imagined by friends with a legacy in the restaurant world. (Don’t miss the Voice’s review of LaRina.)

“I live a block away,” says Giulia Pelliccioni, co-owner of LaRina along with partner Roberto Aita. “I’d seen the space and I loved the garden already, so I couldn’t not try when it was available.”

LaRina is named after Giulia’s grandmother. This pasta-focused Italian eatery has 80 seats, soaring ceilings, and banks of windows, along with a central, open kitchen and an herb-filled patio. That’s not all — there’s a knotted tree that is rooted in the dining room, growing out through the wall towards the sky.

“We make everything ourselves,” says Silvia Barban, chef and another of LaRina’s partners. “Every day, we make fresh pasta, of course, but I like to put my own twist on things.” One of the menu’s highlights is chilled chickpea tagliatelle with calamari and tomato gazpacho. “It’s refreshing for summer, and a little unexpected, no?”

Chickpea tagliatelle
Chickpea tagliatelle

“I want to make the traditional dishes that my grandmother taught me when I was a child, the dishes I love. But I’ve been experimenting too. Right now, I’m interested in working with all kinds of different flours,” says Barban, who trained in Italy under Gualtiero Marchesi (a chef with a strong claim as the father of modern Italian cuisine) before she moved to New York to helm Chelsea Market’s pasta temple, Giovanni Rana.

“Whole-wheat, buckwheat… it’s amazing how much variety you can have,” Barban exclaims. “You should try the smoked spaghetti, with olive oil, chili, garlic, hazelnuts, and Calabrian chilies. It shows the way I think about my cooking tradition. The dish without the smoke is one of my lifetime favorites; it’s what you eat at midnight when you’ve been out drinking! But with the smoke, it’s a different idea. I make the pasta, then I smoke it over hickory wood, then I cook it, so it has a mysterious dark flavor to it.”

With sharing-sized pastas, opportunities for experimentation are built into the menu — which is rounded out by seasonal salads, meats and fish. A market section — “We call it the Laboratory,” Pelliccioni says — has house-made fresh pastas and a selection of other produce for people to take home. “Whatever we’re inspired by,” says Barban. “Right now we’re still very much finding our way — [by] selecting our produce, seeing what works for us.”

“The vibe is a little different to what you might expect,” admits Pelliccioni. “Obviously, it’s Italian. We do pasta, that’s not original for sure. But it’s a different feeling. There’s a lot of care, a lot of thought. It’s got a different spirit. That’s what I hope people get from this.”

Lemon Gigli with Duck Ragu
Lemon Gigli with Duck Ragu

“We’re really proud of our drinks menu too,” adds Barban. “I think it’s very important to the whole enjoyment of the meal. We have a lot of Italian wine, and we did a lot of research, which was fun, and found some natural wines that we love. We also have a big list of vermouth from all over the USA and Italy. I think you should start your meal with a vermouth while you look over the menu — just a little ice and an olive. If you love pasta, then you could do a tasting, or share some dishes with your friends. The lemon Gigli pasta with duck ragu and chicharrones is pretty popular at the moment… and the black pepper ravioli with mushrooms and marscapone.”

“We’re still seeing what this dream really becomes,” says Pelliccioni. “It wasn’t a big plan for us to do this. We’ve both worked with other restaurants a lot, and we’ve worked in other restaurants together, but since we both literally live right on the doorstep, we just felt that we couldn’t not. That’s what makes it truly special. It’s like home.”

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Faro Earns a Michelin Star Thanks to Chef Kevin Adey’s Commitment to Integrity and Sustainability

Chef Kevin Adey’s work with pasta at Faro is much beloved. His slogan of “Earth-Wheat-Fire” pays homage to how seriously he works with the ingredients and techniques that make up the bucatini, gnocchetti, tonnarelli, and other pastas on his menu. It’s a menu so well-received that it recently earned a Michelin star — an honor bestowed upon only two restaurants in Bushwick this year.

But pasta isn’t the only place where he operates with integrity. To Adey, being the chef and owner of his own space means that integrity has to work its way into every seam in order for him to succeed.

It all started with placing Faro where he lives — in Bushwick — since he knew that chefs’ grueling hours and the potential disasters that await an owner day and night could cripple the spirit of even the strongest chef-partner combo. Then it was about making the kind of food he really wanted. “I wanted to own a restaurant serving ten different pastas, with this great vibe that was all about the food,” Adey tells the Voice. “When you’re forced into something, it’s never going to feel as good as if you wanted to do it.”

The next piece of the puzzle was finding a way to use ingredients that would show respect for the people who provide them — and for the earth. For the pastas, organic grains are sourced from upstate New York. Vegetables are organic and sourced locally, too. But the biggest triumph comes in how Adey uses whole animals. It’s not an uncommon practice nowadays for chefs in New York, and Adey was among many others who would buy shares of large animals so as to cut down on the quantity killed yearly. He then challenged himself to take his commitment to sustainably raised meat one step further.

“Four or five years ago, I decided to raise a pig myself and kill it myself, to see if I could do it and still eat meat,” he says. “I did it, and it was extremely difficult and life changing. I realized that it’s hard, hard work to be a farmer. At that point I made a decision to be a whole animal guy. How can I pick and choose these parts of my beliefs?”

Chef Kevin Adey
Chef Kevin Adey

In this regard, putting rose veal on the menu is a triumph. Adey explains that commodity veal comes from baby male cows ripped early from their mothers, who are needed for milk production. “They immediately get shipped off to some terrible place. It’s animal abuse, it’s terrible, and they become veal you see in terrible stores and restaurants,” he says. Rose veal, however, comes from baby male cows who are kept with their mothers, drinking milk and grazing on hay and grass for 13–18 months before being humanely slaughtered. Because male cows aren’t milkers (and therefore have no other monetary value than their meat), it’s important for chefs like Adey to absorb the higher cost for the better product.

“For me, this is the pinnacle of sustainability: to support farms like this, and to keep an animal from the worst fucking possible conditions,” he says. “I’m a huge animal advocate. The farm I buy from is Animal Welfare Certified. And I’ve been there. I’ve seen the way he treats the animals, and they couldn’t ask for a better life. That’s what I’m so super proud to be serving now.”

Adey recognizes breaking down whole animals is a lot of hard work, and that it takes time, and trial and error, to know how to do well. (His grandmother was a butcher, but she died young: “I think she’d be [pretty proud] of me,” he notes.) His education came in the form of practice and repetition, working with sides of beef, pork, grinding poorly-cut parts into hamburger meat. “You’re given 300 pounds of meat, and you have to put it to work,” he says. “You’re getting bones and fat, and they all cost the same as the meat, so you have to know what to do with that.”

Altogether, that intricate sourcing means that any given ingredient can take center stage on the plate at Faro.

Bucatini with Chicken at Faro
Bucatini with Chicken at Faro

“My cooking is ingredient driven,” he explains. “It always starts from a thing. I’ll walk through the farmer’s market and see a turnip: We then focus on that ingredient. We do turnips with duck, black garlic, and cherries. The turnips are presented raw, roasted, the greens, and a puree. We put the most attention on the turnip. The duck is the foil to the turnip, and the cherry and black garlic accent it. We are very ingredient-driven, seasonal American food.”

The final part of Adey’s incidental integrity program is how he runs his kitchen. His father is a teacher and a football coach. While Adey mostly majored in “lacrosse and alcohol and girls” in college, he was technically in line to follow as a teacher, too. Today, “making people better at what they do through experience is the highlight of my day,” he says. “I’m really proud of the kids who work for me who then have gone on to become chefs…. They’re getting the shit kicked out of them. When you see a cook become a sous chef, it makes me happy. It really does.”

Being a teacher means sometimes coaxing cooks out of the restaurant world, too: He’s encouraged amazing cooks who don’t want to be chefs to leave his kitchen to follow their dreams of being full-time filmmakers or musicians instead.

“I listen to this motivation tape every morning,” he says. “The first thing it says is that no one’s gonna help you with your dream. That’s not how it works. You have to fucking struggle and work every day to make your dreams come true. I like to be the voice to say, ‘Why are you still here? Go do what you want to do.’ It’s a terrible life if you don’t want to be a chef. You eat shit for ten years. You lose every friend you’ve ever had. You don’t go to weddings or birthday parties. You have to sacrifice to be a chef. So if you don’t want to be a chef, don’t do it! Close your eyes, picture what you want, and go do it! It’s a big part of how I run this place.”

Integrity. With attitude.

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In Soho, King Reigns With Posh European Fare

Some restaurants go to great lengths to wow with their first impressions. The kitchen might fashion intricate miniature compositions for amuse-bouches, or flaunt their bread-baking prowess via a full-on gluten assault. King, the cheery downtown nook from partner Annie Shi and chefs Jess Shadbolt and Clare de Boer, begins every meal with a single cracker. These aren’t your average Trump-hued Ritz rounds, of course, but a wide Sardinian flatbread called carta di musica — so named for their papery thinness, like a sheet of music. Gnarled, brittle, and tasting like well-done pizza crust in the best way possible, the crackers are a simple, assured choice — one that alludes to the rest of the deliberate and uncomplicated Mediterranean-inspired cooking here.

New Yorker Shi met de Boer and Shadbolt — who hail from Buckinghamshire and London, respectively — on their home turf. She was working at the fashionable Clove Club and they were cooking together at the River Café, London’s nearly three-decade-old paean to Italian cuisine where celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and April Bloomfield got their start. In early September, the trio set up shop on an unassuming Soho corner that for a decade housed beloved Vietnamese neighborhood haunt Mekong. King buzzes with a similar lighthearted energy, its concise menu of constantly changing market-driven recipes suited to repeat visits. Framed by a forest-green façade, both the snug bar area and cream-toned dining room, designed by de Boer’s mother, soak up natural light on summer evenings and glow golden at night. Shi, a warm and gracious host who also handles wines, runs a smooth operation. Peering in, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d been here for three years rather than three months, so persistent is the flow of traffic during prime business hours.

Putting the "crack" in "cracker."
Putting the “crack” in “cracker.”

King’s well-dressed crowds snack on $9 finger foods — stacks of fried chickpea panisse, maybe, or battered artichokes with only a wedge of lemon for spritzing — and sip cocktails that rely heavily on French spirits. These make fine precursors to a meal, but you’d be forgiven for skipping right to small plates like plump, buttery Roman semolina gnocchi or malfatti, Lombardy’s beloved spinach-ricotta dumplings, here rendered exceptionally pillowy. Roasted honey-nut pumpkin is sugary enough that it could be used in a dessert. Instead, the prized gourd is draped with wilted dandelion greens and chile pepper ribbons, the dish’s bolder elements tempered by dollops of crème fraîche. The kitchen also isn’t afraid to offer more subdued tastes — rare in our funky, fermented times — like poached veal tongue sliced thin and served at room temperature with swiss chard, lentils, and a spoonful of creamy sauce ravigote. Many of the same ingredients undergo makeovers week to week, so polenta might show up as grilled wedges topped with juicy quail, followed days later by bowls of velvety soft-cooked polenta tinted green from dandelions, a melty mound of cheese from Vermont’s Twig Farm embedded in the decadent porridge.

With respect to my Thanksgiving host this year, it will be hard to top King’s roast guinea hen with chestnuts and fried sage in terms of sheer poultry pleasure. Shadbolt and de Boer deliver the bird succulent and golden-brown, the plate flooded with gravy. National holiday or no, with a serving of rustically chunky mashed celeriac on the side, the $58 shared entrée is cause for voracious celebration. I also felt like cheering after cutting into firm-fleshed monkfish, which the chefs roast on the bone over potatoes and fennel, using the pan-drippings to make a mellow sauce with French vermouth. Veal, meanwhile, deserves a golf clap for its polite presentation, the seared-medium bone-in chop unadorned save for poached, gently seasoned artichokes and spinach. Despite the ever-changing menu, there’s always some preparation of hanger steak (listed in French as “onglet”) available: grilled over rosemary sprigs, perhaps, or planted next to potatoes and prosciutto. Hope yours comes, as mine did one night, with Etruscan salsa, an incredibly potent and piquant mash of olive oil, bread, garlic, pine nuts, chile peppers, and herbs.

An airy dark-chocolate tart is another of King’s mainstays, though it’s overshadowed by one filled with dates baked into luscious custard. French booze reappears in a frozen Pernod parfait, the drink’s licorice notes accentuated by an anise cookie. Shadbolt and de Boer’s baked apple, however, elicits the most excitement at meal’s end, delivered to the table still wrapped in parchment paper, to be torn into like a gift. Cooked until it turns mahogany, its core is stuffed with a jammy pulp of prunes, almonds, and amaretto. Like the carta di musica, these are straightforward plays that pay off. Still, pouring an accompanying cup of fresh cream over the soft fruit does feel pretty posh.

King
18 King Street, 917-825-1618
kingrestaurant.nyc

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LaRina Does Pasta Right

Chef Silvia Barban, born and raised in northern Italy, opened LaRina Pastificio e Vino in Fort Greene this August, having supplied Clinton Hill with her homemade noodles at Aita restaurant since 2014. Her team has appropriated a Fellini quote as a kind of mantra: “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” These four nouns leap out upon entering LaRina — one walks into a high-ceilinged haven bustling with pasta-twirlers in every combination (families, dates, solitary brunchers), the life of the place is palpable, and one step into the back garden offers a mellow (though chilly) bulb-lit magic. Visitors are greeted by smiling staff who seem somehow unanimously freckled, either on face or in soul. The alcohol is kept on handsome wooden bookshelves, and decorative white tin makes the walls look like quilts. This is an inviting space.

A pasta menu split into two columns (“Traditional” and “Thoughtful”) takes up the top half of the menu: The tradizione side includes familiar pomodoro and lasagna options. Beside it, the more inventive pensiero dishes incorporate curveballs like duck ragù, octopus, and mustard greens. Appetizers and entrées are listed below the pasta for “Before or After.” Several of these are worth adding to your meal. Burrata has by now become ubiquitous, but the LaRina preparation with peanuts and Castelvetrano olives is exceptional. For a rich starter, try the toasted focaccia with scallion-lemon butter, anchovies, and frisée; a lighter but equally pleasing choice is a bowl of slivered beets with figs and San Daniele prosciutto. A braised beef cheek, whole dorada fish, and mixed-meat bollito fill out the heartier proteins.

But don’t let any of this ruin your pasta appetite. LaRina knows how hard it is to choose between its ten noodle dishes, and offers three- or five-pasta samplers for the indecisive. Standouts for those who want to commit to a single dish include the cocoa tagliatelle, served in a sublimely gooey walnut sauce interrupted by big chunks of mushroom. The spaghetti aglio e olio e peperoncino appears in the “Traditional” column but has been reinvigorated: The spaghetti is heavily smoked, giving the dish a surprising intensity reminiscent of mezcal. Generous handfuls of hazelnuts and chopped garlic enliven each bite. (It’s worth noting for celiac spaghetti-lovers that these dishes can be prepared with handmade gluten-free pasta for an additional dollar.)

To match the abundance of the food menu, the drink list boasts “negroni on tap.” After ordering one (who wouldn’t), I watched the bartender leave the bar and walk out to the garden, where he picked the garnishing herbs. The house cocktail list is several pages long, followed by even lengthier run-downs of wines, amari, and grappa. These are strong, large-pour drinks that keep the pastas feeling maximum jolly. Dessert specials change daily and often involve luxurious creams (mascarpone, panna cotta).

Open seven days a week, LaRina offers an ambitious and original brunch menu including all sorts of eggs. If you’re hungry, order the “Broken Egg Plate,” the love child of an Italian garden and a Greek diner: two eggs any style, veggie salad, fruit, buckwheat pancake, paprika fries, and bacon. Their more sophisticated and stomach-friendly alternative is the “Santa Melanzana”: poached eggs served over well-seasoned eggplant fillets (picture the eggplant like slices of toast) topped with refreshing arugula, basil, heirloom tomatoes, and goat cheese. You can add a little bulk to the Melanzana by ordering a side of “Home Fries Gratin”: tomatoey potatoes served hot under a layer of melted mozzarella cheese. With a respectable cappuccino on top, you won’t go home unsatisfied.

Before you leave, stop by the market counter at the back: Here you can buy underpriced fresh pasta by the pound, cacciatorini salami, truffles, anchovies, olives, and jars of homemade sauces. I took home chile rigatoni in a neat square paper box and a sweet little portion of basil pesto; it felt like a bag of jewels.

This is a full-service operation that wears every hat well. No dish on the menu costs more than twenty dollars: Starters come in largely under ten, and pastas hover around sixteen. That “negroni on tap” will run you nine bucks in a borough whose cocktails too often go for nearly double that. Two eggs at brunch costs only four. So mangia. Slurp up your pasta, it’s fresh and good; make affectionate toasts over your negroni; take home a little treat for tomorrow.

LaRina Pastificio & Vino
387 Myrtle Avenue
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
718-852-0001
larinabk.com

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Need a Lift? The 2016 Giglio Feast Celebrates Italian Pride in Brooklyn

For over a century, the southern Italian communities of Brooklyn have gathered to raise a huge tower in honor of a legendary tale. The eleven-day festival — near the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg — celebrates the story of San Paolino di Nola and brings New York’s Italian population together for the Giglio Feast with food, games, and more. On Sunday, July 10, Giglio Sunday took place, with a large group of men hoisting up the 82-foot tall Giglio tower — which weighs in at four tons. 
Photos by C.S. Muncy for the Village Voice

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Patsy’s: Home to Three Generations of Fathers — and Frank Sinatra’s Favorite Eats

In the downstairs kitchen at Patsy’s (236 West 56th Street), Joe Scognamillo is tasting red sauce. His son, Salvatore, made it that morning, just as he has done ever since he took charge of the family kitchen in 1984, but Joe still comes in most days to keep an eye on things.

“I’ve been cooking in this kitchen for over seventy years!” Joe explains. “With my father…and now with my son. This sauce is made the exact way my father made it, the way he taught me to make it, the way I taught my son to make it, and that’s the way it’s gonna be. It’s good enough for Sinatra.”

It’s hours before the lunchtime rush and the kitchen is already hard at work. Salvatore Scognamillo (“Call me Sal, everyone does”) portions out veal as bubbling pans of sauce reduce over gas burners. “We make three different kinds of red sauce — minimum,” Sal notes. “People think, ‘Oh, red sauce is all the same,’ and it’s not. One is really fresh, light, not cooked very long. One has pancetta there in the base. It’s important to do it right.”

With just three chefs — son, father, and grandfather — in the restaurant’s entire history, doing it right at Patsy’s means doing it the family way.

Frank, Joe, and Sal Scognamillo
Frank, Joe, and Sal Scognamillo

“It’s a legacy,” says Sal. “When I first took over, my grandfather came after church to inspect the kitchen. All the family was there to greet him, and he just walked past us, down to the kitchen, looked in the fridge and came back out again. I said, ‘Pop, where did you go?’ He said, ‘I was checking you still get the veal from the place I like. Now I see you do, I can hug you.’ ”

Patsy’s was founded by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo in 1944. “He had a reputation in the business before he opened his own place,” Sal explains. “He opened a restaurant on 48th and 8th with a friend, and one of his customers there was Tommy Dorsey, the big-band leader. He told my grandfather, ‘I got this skinny kid from Hoboken. Can you fatten him up for me?’ That was Frank Sinatra.”

After a falling out with that friend, Patsy’s opened on 56th Street. A few years later they expanded, opening a second dining room upstairs that offered more discretion to publicity-shy guests. Where Pasquale Scognamillo went, Sinatra went, too. The intoxicating hint of celebrity along with the elegance of Patsy’s dining, and the comfort of the cuisine, proved an irresistible combination.

“Anyone who was anyone was here,” says Joe.

“I started working here when I was eleven, and I’ll tell you, it was a different age. A more respectful age,” he explains. “People dressed up for dinner. It was an occasion. Food was about dining, not just eating. And it’s a pity that things have changed because it was all so beautiful. Men in suits and ties, women in their best dresses and jewels. That generation is fading away, but we preserve the spirit here.”

Even now, Patsy’s still attracts a clientele of luminaries. “Any night we might have Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney as guests…. You know, he came in here even before he was born!” Joe exclaims. “His mother used to have lunch here with Rosemary Clooney, so that spans a generation — all the way back to the whole Rat Pack all sitting upstairs eating veal Milanese.”

Sinatra liked his veal Milanese paper-thin with a small arugula salad on top. “We still serve it like that to this day,” Joe notes. Next to him in the kitchen, Sal portions out the day’s meat. “Sinatra loved to joke around. Sometimes he’d borrow a waiter’s jacket and he’d go over to the table and take an order and see if they recognized him!”

“One time,” says Sal, “Frank threw a big party upstairs for Jimmy Cagney. When it was time for ‘Happy Birthday,’ there was Dean Martin singing, and Sammy Davis Jr. was doing a soft-shoe shuffle. Can you imagine? That was Frank. If you were his friend then you wanted for nothing.”

“That’s Frank,” says Joe. “That’s just the way he was.”

“Personally, I think we run a good restaurant,” Sal explains. “We really care about what we do, and we make good food, but I think the reason we’re still doing business in a city of 20,000 restaurants is because Sinatra loved eating here and said so a lot, and his friends all came here, too. That’s a blessing.”

Even after his passing, Sinatra still has some influence over who stops by Patsy’s. “A few weeks after Sinatra died, we were closed for the night,” says Sal. “But when there was a knock on the door, my cousin answered it. It was Bono. He said that Frank had told him he had to come here for a good meal. Well, my cousin didn’t know who he was, but we made him some food anyway. I think he thought maybe Bono was something to do with Sonny Bono? Still, he left here full and happy.”

Opening when officially closed is something of a signature move for Patsy’s. One Thanksgiving, when Sinatra was having a career slump and feeling lonely, he called to book dinner for one. Not having the heart to tell Sinatra that the restaurant was closed for the holiday, staff came in, filled out the tables with family and friends, and served dinner anyway.

That kind of celebrity glitter can color any night with its own kind of magic. “We had a young couple from London once, who loved Tony Bennett, and they’d read that he liked to eat here,” says Sal. “They asked my dad if that was true, and, right on cue, Tony Bennett walks through the door. My dad says, ‘Why don’t you ask him yourself?’ ”

Linguine puttanesca
Linguine puttanesca

To eat at Patsy’s is to reach through history and spend an evening in a bygone New York, where the menu reads like a lyric to a song you only half remember. Scallopini. Rollatini. Clams Posillipo. Veal piccata. But this is no monument to nostalgia with more theater than food. This is familiar, warming cooking of the most generous sort. And you’d expect nothing less, really, from a restaurant with a staff list that reads: “Mum, dad, cousins, me, my wife…”

“Both my boys say they’d like to work here one day,” says Sal. “We’ll have to see. I tell them, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ That’s a rule I live by.”

“I think that sauce needs more salt,” says Joe. Father and son lean over the pot as the rich garlic-tomato steam scents the kitchen in the heart of old Manhattan. All is at it should be at Patsy’s, untouched by time.

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Cafe Altro Paradiso’s Pristine Italian Flavors Soar

If not for an accompanying hillock of gigante beans, Café Altro Paradiso’s paunchy pork sausage — browned and left whole — would look right at home in your neighborhood biergarten. But not all is as it seems, so spear yourself a meaty nugget, dab on some spicy pear mostarda, and thank your stars that Ignacio Mattos is cooking Italian food again.

In this age of rainbow foodstuffs and block-long milkshake lines, you might be tempted to write off dishes like that poor lone sausage or a straightforward serving of anchovies on toast. Don’t. Mattos and chef de cuisine Aidan O’Neal home in on a few judiciously handled elements to make most of their plates soar. Those anchovies are nimbly laced with chile oil and parsley. Thinly sliced, citrusy raw fluke enjoys a jolt from halved caper berries. There’s a surprise lurking underneath the crimson blob of bison carpaccio, which arrives looking like a magician’s kerchief before the reveal: Beneath it lies a mound of salty potato crisps. The plating may give you pause, but who cares when the flavors are this pristine? — Zachary Feldman

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Delight in Streamlined Italian at Ignacio Mattos’s New Joint

If not for an accompanying hillock of gigante beans, Café Altro Paradiso’s paunchy pork sausage — browned and left whole — would look right at home in your neighborhood biergarten. But not all is as it seems, so spear yourself a meaty nugget, dab on some spicy pear mostarda, and thank your stars that Ignacio Mattos is cooking Italian food again.

For the past five years, the Uruguayan-born chef has perplexed and entranced diners in equal measure. In 2012, he was abruptly ousted from Williamsburg’s wonky, wood-fired Isa for weaving sunchokes into dessert and serving sardines with their skeletons. He bounced back stronger than ever the following year, toning down his edginess (if only slightly) as an owner of Houston Street’s idiosyncratic Estela, where his artful small plates, coupled with partner Thomas Carter’s extensive wine knowledge, piqued the interest of the Obamas. Those restaurants garnered Mattos national acclaim, but his focused cooking at Altro Paradiso actually recalls an earlier time — specifically, his days as executive chef of downtown’s venerable rustic-Italian charmer Il Buco.

In this age of rainbow foodstuffs and block-long milkshake lines, you might be tempted to write off dishes like that poor lone sausage or a straightforward serving of anchovies on toast. Don’t. Mattos and chef de cuisine Aidan O’Neal home in on a few judiciously handled elements to make most of their plates soar. Those anchovies are nimbly laced with chile oil and parsley. Thinly sliced, citrusy raw fluke enjoys a jolt from halved caper berries. There’s a surprise lurking underneath the crimson blob of bison carpaccio, which arrives looking like a magician’s kerchief before the reveal: Beneath it lies a mound of salty potato crisps. The plating may give you pause, but who cares when the flavors are this pristine?

This is food that’s both self-aware and restrained. Since opening at the end of February, Carter and Mattos have made a number of tweaks to the menu, which largely remains loyal to a traditional Italian three-course setup. Buffalo mozzarella, once matched with crunchy celery and basil leaves, has been swapped out for cream-filled burrata served with tart preserved lemon. Gone are the ambitious daily specials (grilled quail, a Sunday chicken roast), nixed in favor of lengthening the appetizer selection to suit our collective, and apparently unwavering, obsession with small plates.

You’re encouraged to treat pasta as a mid course, or “primi,” which means modest portions. The upside is that it allows for more variety: There’s spaghetti that glistens with ramp pesto and plump gnocchi cooked up Northern Italian–style with pancetta, radicchio, walnuts, and pecorino romano. If you choose just one, though, make it the lasagnette, with its springtime jubilee of asparagus and morel mushrooms.

Main courses lack diversity, with only three or four options offered — none vegetarian. It’s also the section where you’ll find the menu’s only real dud: a Milanese cutlet of pounded-thin chicken; served with Dijon mustard, it’s technically precise but uninspiring. On the other hand, swordfish is excellent with a tarragon salsa verde, as is lamb (either as a chop or sliced shoulder) served with green-pea purée. And kudos to Mattos for sticking with calf’s liver, a notoriously finicky organ: Currently, it comes with spring onions and sweet, nutty polenta — a classic dish, fine-tuned to contemporary tastes.

The restaurant occupies the same curious West Soho block as the city’s only Ducati dealership and takes a cue from the Italian motorcycle’s subtle curves. Café Altro Paradiso’s tiered, high-ceilinged space is U-shaped, with a busy bar at one end and a wood-lined dining room at the other. Desserts, meanwhile, are stylish and austere: Choose from textbook tiramisu, panna cotta sauced with amarena cherries, and dense gelato (pairing honey with chestnuts or dried figs with vin santo wine) — though nothing defines “simple pleasure” quite like wedges of chocolate-walnut torte or rhubarb crostata, the latter a potent slice combining jewel-red stalks with a just-burnt-enough crust. They’re the Italian-pastry equivalent of a mic drop.

Café Altro Paradiso
234 Spring Street, 646-952-0828
altroparadiso.com

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Lilia Is Near-Bliss for Those Who Missed Missy Robbins (And for Everyone Else, Too)

Show up to Lilia as a walk-in and you might wind up feeling stepped on. “We have nothing available,” the host said almost aggressively, responding to our request for a table. We could be put on the waitlist for the bar, he said, though it was “already pretty full.” Being discouraged from sticking around (wasn’t it our choice whether or not to wait?) was one of the odder service blips I’ve ever experienced.

It’s also an unfortunate one, because once you’re seated in its skylighted dining room, Lilia emerges as a victorious homecoming for one of our city’s great Italian chefs. Missy Robbins, who cooked for the Obamas at Chicago’s Spiaggia in the early Aughts, and whose rustic stylings snagged Michelin stars for both NYC locations of A Voce, is playing for keeps in Williamsburg. At Lilia, which opened in late January, she consults with her crew amid a sprawling open kitchen; a fire roars in the deep Grillworks hearth behind them. The airy space, formerly an auto body shop, is now lit by glowing lamps.

It’s been eight years since Robbins first arrived in New York, three since she last helmed a kitchen of her own. The return also marks her debut as a restaurant owner, and the results are mostly excellent. A tiny anterior café that doubles as a second bar for diners waiting at night is a pleasant nook for sipping bitter aperitifs and snacking on cheesy cacio e pepe fritters. Meanwhile, on the main menu, produce and fish get top billing: Capers and blood orange add dimension to slices of charred fennel, and cauliflower and romanesco get a kick of soppressata and Sicilian pesto. The bagna càuda, a piquant anchovy dip served with vegetables both raw and cooked, is bracing, while a dish of seared swordfish and ramps unites straightforward technique and seasonality. Two of the most popular items at our table: a plate of cured sardines on garlic toast and an order of clams in the shell, grilled with savory stuffing and Calabrian chiles.

Soft-serve gelato headlines the dessert menu.
Soft-serve gelato headlines the dessert menu.

A noodle savant, Robbins brings her gluten A-game to Lilia, preparing half a dozen well-portioned pastas. Choose any of them — ricotta gnocchi with broccoli pesto and pistachios, malfadine ribbons with parmesan and pink peppercorns — and you’ll leave happier than you arrived. She does a lot with the simplest ingredient combinations, teaming pancetta and spring garlic with spaghetti, and San Marzano tomatoes and chiles for rigatoni diavolo. And don’t skip her oblong agnolotti stuffed with sheep’s-milk cheese and coated in saffron-honey butter.

Carnivores needn’t fear being left out, either. The dinner menu features a trio of meat entrées, the best of which is a huge lamb leg steak rubbed with coriander, garlic, and aniseed and topped with crunchy celery and fennel; it arrives pink and charred, with a gamy layer of fat. Less cumbersome is a tender veal flank steak joined by onions and a green-pepper mash. Juicy chicken legs are missing crisp skin but are saved by an olive-and-caper sauce. Meat might not dominate the menu, but these dishes are far from afterthoughts.

Soft-serve gelato headlines the dessert menu, and Lilia invites diners to dress up their scoops with candied orange peel, salted hazelnuts, and amaretti cookies. A ginger-apple crostata could use more mascarpone, but Robbins’s intensely flavored chocolate and olive oil cakes perfectly embody this ambitious, and often masterful, solo project.

Lilia
567 Union Avenue, Brooklyn
718-576-3095
lilianewyork.com