Most people know Chazz Palminteri as the tough-looking Bronx-raised New Yorker best known for his roles in hits like A Bronx Tale and Bullets Over Broadway. Now, the Academy Award-nominated actor has teamed up with the Sinanaj brothers to bring hearty Italian dishes to the heart of Manhattan. By Carly Petrone.
Step into Chazz Palminteri Ristorante Italiano and you'll immediately feel transformed to another time. Although this Italian eatery just opened in late October, the space looks like a place where the Rat Pack may have once dined. The 140-seat restaurant is filled with luxurious murals, large leather chairs, and a beautiful wooden bar that's cozy enough to enjoy an intimate conversation.
Beloved New York actor Chazz Palminteri has always been fascinated with the great restaurants of the past. This is why he has teamed up with the owners of Empire Steak House -- to bring classic Italian fare to Manhattan. From Italian meats and seafood to pasta dishes and dessert, this Midtown spot is busy serving up authentic food that tastes like it came straight out of grandma's kitchen. The servers are also dressed to the nines and love to interact with their customers.
"I was always infatuated with the great restaurants of the past in New York City, like Toots Shor and Jilly's used to be; here the Rat Pack and Frank Sinatra and all the celebrities used to go to. And I had a vision of having my own restaurant where we would serve great Italian dishes and celebrities would come by and have a drink," says Palminteri.
In fact, it was Palminteri's friendship with Frank Sinatra that inspired him to create his own line of vodka called BiVi.
"One of the highlights of my life was getting to know the great Frank Sinatra. I remember the time we were having dinner at his home in Malibu. Frank and I were talking outside alone by the ocean. I felt the need to tell him what his music meant to so many generations of people. He smiled and thanked me and then he finished his martini. He then removed the toothpick with two olives and asked me to take one. I took one of the olives and we both popped them into our mouths. He hugged me and we walked back into the house. I didn't understand what just happened. I found out later that sharing an olive was a Rat-Pack tradition. They all shared their olives with each other because it was a sign of great friendship. I was touched and it was a moment I will never forget." adds Palminteri. This is why the BiVi Martini is one of his favorite cocktails on the menu. It's simply 100 Percent BiVi Sicilian vodka served chilled with two olives.
If you're in the mood for a glass of wine to go with your meal, you've come to the right place. The wine list itself has more than 250 options to choose from including Italian whites, classic chiantis, and still or sparkling roses. Start your dinner with a plate of Mozzarella Di Bufalo Della Casa ($13.95) -- homemade buffalo mozzarella served with roasted peppers, beefsteak tomatoes, basil, and olive oil -- or the Polpo Alla Griglia ($15.95) -- grilled octopus served with chopped broccoli rabe, spicy cherry peppers, capers, and olives. If starting with a salad is more your style, definitely try the Insalata Di Funghi. It's filled with grilled portobello mushrooms on a bed of arugula and topped with smoked mozzarella and balsamic dressing.
The real stand outs on the menu are the homemade pastas. The Paglia Fieno E Grappe is creamy yet light enough to finish the entire bowl without feeling overly stuffed. It's made with thin white and spinach noodles that are sauteed with shiitake mushrooms, pancetta, and peas in a creamy grappa sauce. The Linguini Nero is a great choice if you're looking for a hearty seafood option. This black linguini comes with mixed seafood and a pound and half of lobster in a white or red sauce. The Cremagliera Bronx Grigliate Di Vitello does give the pasta a run for its money. This rack of veal chop is served with roasted potatoes and topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms, peppers, and fresh herbs.
"I spent two months in Italy with my wife and kids and traveled through all the different regions. Together, with the Sinanaj brothers, we created dishes from Italy for this restaurant. We even went into the kitchen together with our chef to perfect these dishes we chose." adds Palminteri. It should come as no surprise that Palminteri's favorite dish on the menu is the Pasta alla Vodka, which is made with his own BiVi vodka.
And it wouldn't be a traditional Italian meal without a classic Italian dessert. The Tiramisu is piled high with fluffy layers of delicious cream while the Flourless Chocolate Cake will satisfy any sweet tooth. Of course you can pair these with a scoop of gelato or shot of espresso to help draw your meal to a close.
By this time you're probably on a first name basis with your waiter, who's most likely offered you a complimentary serving of limoncello. It's that kind of hospitality and customer appreciation that makes this place so special.
"We want customers to feel a quiet New York elegance. I try to be authentic and serve only the best. With me you get a great performance and great food." concludes Palminteri.
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