I ♥ Torrisi Italian Specialities

image“old school charm meets culinary innovation at a standout spot in NOLITA”

Torrisi WindowI first discovered Torrisi Italian Specialities while walking down Mulberry Street during a New York buying trip two summers ago.  It was a midday and I was intrigued by the long line forming out the door of this tiny spot. The lace curtains draping the storefront windows, with their gilded lettering, strongly resembled the Little Italy created by Frances Ford Coppola in The Godfather II.  Evocative of a different era, Torrisi certainly could be a next door neighbor to “Genco Pura Olive Oil Company.”  When I mentioned the place to my foodie friend Jen, she explained it was a tiny 18 seater, serving classic Italian American lunch fare (like Chicken Parm and Turkey Heroes) during the day, and then at night it morphed into an elevated, but still decidedly Italian American, prix fix dining spot. And of course they didn’t take reservations. And it was white hot.

imageGladly today they do take reservations (but only 30 days in advance) and the lunch fare has spun off into a second spot next door (the appropriately named Parm). I have since had the pleasure of dining at Torrisi twice; once last fall and then again last week.  Both times I was charmed by the experience and thoroughly impressed by the quality of the food delivered by owners and chefs, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi and their team.  The menu changes daily, but the format remains the same. For $75 per person you are served four assorted “antipasti,” one pasta, an entree choice of either meat or fish, a dessert and a delightful takeaway box of small cookies and candies.  For both the pasta and main course you are offered a choice of two options, but the rest of the menu is fixed.

Torrisi Italian SpecialitiesMy Foodie Valentine to Torrisi Italian Specialities

The wine list is well edited and surprisingly reasonable. The service smart and brisk. And the food is beyond delicious. Last week’s highlights included Warm House-made Mozzarella with DaVero Olive Oil (served with delicious toasted bread slices), A Boar’s Head Grilled Panini (yes I was nervous, but the meat was so tender and toothsome) and Surf and Turf Carpaccio (a paper thin slice of raw beef with lump seafood and sausage). Both my pasta – Sheep’s Milk Gnocchi with Chestnut Ragu (the light as air pasta paired perfectly with the earthy sweet chestnuts) and Jim’s – Seashells di Mare (shell shaped pasta with a delightful medley of fresh seafood) – were exceptional.  The Lemon Cake was beautiful, the just right balance of sour and sweet. And the small white box of cookies tied with baker’s twine was the perfect grace note for the experience (it included their signature red, green and white layered cookies – as featured in Bon Appétit).

I can’t think of a place where I’ve felt so tucked in and taken care of. And spotting Cameron Diaz across the small dining room during our last dinner certainly added a few extra watts to an already bright winter evening. All in all two exceptional evenings spent in very capable culinary hands.

Torrisi Italian Specialities
250 Mulberry St
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-0955

reservations are accepted up to one month in advance

Two Dining Gems in Paris

After 48 in London – we took the train across the channel to Paris for four days and the women’s fashion market. Jimmy and I have been doing this trip twice annually for years and have built up a great restaurant stockpile. We like more casual spots where the locals go and forgo fine dining spots. This time we made two great new discoveries.

Frenchie Wine Bar

When I initially emailed the concierge about reservations at Frenchie – the most buzzed about restaurant in Paris – she told me not to to bother “they NEVER answer their phone – it’s maddening.” Of course this made me want a seat at Chef Gregory Marchand’s table all the more. Luckily additional sleuthing uncovered the fact that he and his team also operate a more casual 40 seat wine bar directly across the street from their small restaurant – and that spot does not take reservations. Diners line up for the 7 o’clock opening and are seated on a first come, first serve basis.

We arrived at the inconspicuous doorway on a hidden street in the 2nd at 6:40. We were number 16 in line. By 7:05 we were seated inside the cozy restaurant at a four top with an engaging couple from Minneapolis. And we were directly next to the plexi-glass wall which gave us a first hand view inside the tiny controlled kitchen. The menu consisted of about 20 sharable items – we chose six and they were all tops. We started with the Pulled Pork Sliders. The irony of eating exceptional North Carolina style BBQ in Paris was not lost on me – but this sandwich could win any American BBQ competition They were tangy and toothsome and overall just right. Next came a more traditional French dish Terrine de Campagne (country style poultry pâté), deliciously spreadable, studded with pistachios, it had a richly flavorful chunky texture, further elevated by the restaurants hardy char-crusted bread. The Fois Gras Royale was a fois gras custard made with cream & eggs – almost like creme crème brûlée. Duck jus jelly & hazelnuts topped it adding additional flavor and crunch. It was hands down the best Fois Gras I have ever experienced. Next up a hand made Papardelle with a Lamb Ragu that would make any Italian Grandmother Proud. A very interesting Seasonal Vegetable Salad followed – composed of baby vegetables softy blanched in a flavorful broth – each gently softened in the process, but not at all soggy. Finally we had Épaule de Porc – braised milk fed pork shoulder, tender and flavorful, served with a fresh corn salad – satisfying way to end the evening. For wine we shared 2 bottles of a Jean Foillard 2009 Morgan Beaujolais which paired well with all of our food. And astoundingly the entire experience came in under 200 Euro (with gratuity).

This place is remarkable, serving some of the most imaginative and well crafted food I have ever encountered, a must for any serious foodie’s Paris agenda.

Au Moulin a Vent (Chez Henri)

On Saturday we met our friend Bari to try a new spot in the 5th – one I had read about in Conde Nast Traveler. Reservations here are a must, as this place is popular with locals, so plan on making one a few weeks in advance.

What we found upon entering Au Moulin a Vent was a bustling small Parisian restaurant where the menu and atmosphere beautifully reflected the place’s classic heritage (it was opened in 1946). From the zinc bar and cellar themed memorabilia, to the long red banquettes and well starched white table clothes, the place exuded easy charm. And from the moment we crossed the threshold it was abundantly clear that we should focus on french classics.

We began with three different starters – Escargot with Garlic Butter, Haricot Vert with Lump Crab Meat and an Artichoke Salad with a Balsamic Vinaigrette. Each was prepared meticulously – allowing the freshness of the ingredients to shine. The Escargot had a wonderful earthly flavor and buttery garlic bite. With haricot vert I love the way the french use green beans as a base for a salad rather than lettuce. In this case tender beans were slightly blanched and served cold – the salty seafood flavor of the crab complimented the beans beautifully. The artichoke salad was composed of thin slices of boiled artichoke crowns which were served ice cold and clearly fresh. The bright acidity of the vinaigrette brought the subtle flavors of the artichoke to life. All in all, wonderful beginnings.

For mains it was all about the bouffe – their speciality. Bari had the Entrecote (a cut similar to a Ribeye) served with a textbook Bearnaise. Jimmy and I each had the Chateaubriand (a large cut from the tenderloin) au Poivre with Brandy Cream Sauce. Often in France the cuts of meat are not nearly as tender or flavorful as what you will find stateside. This was not the case at Au Moulin a Vent – the meat rose to the level of the sauces. Our steaks also came with a plate piled high with “Petit Pommes Rissolees” – large hunks of golden fried potatoes.

The desserts also delivered. Profiteroles with Semisweet Chocolate Sauce and the quintessential Floating Island – a monstrous piece of meringue topped with caramel and nuts – swimming in a pool of creme anglais. Glorious.

Our somewhat serious waiter lightened up as the evening progressed. And by night’s end he was joking with us, rather than at us, about or abysmal pronunciation of these french classics. In fact, as we waited for our taxi, he came over with complimentary shots of an intense mystery liquor “to warm for the road.” The perfect punctuation for a lovely meal.


frenchie bar a vins
5-5 rue du Nil (2nd)
Tél: 01 40 39 96 19
7:00 to 10:30 pm Monday – Friday, no reservations

au moulin a vent
20 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard (5th)
Tél: 01 43 54 99 37
lunch and dinner Tuesday – Friday, dinner only Saturday, reservations required