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Sicilian Magic in the Big Apple

Gero Salamone (October 21, 2015)
The French poet Guy de Maupassant called Sicily “the land of oranges, of blooming ground, whose air in the spring is a fragrance,” An island with timeless appeal, where one becomes enchanted with its numerous cities: the capital Palermo, the charming Taormina, or the historic Ragusa Ibla. A region that over the years has received an influx of different cultures: Greek, Arabic, Norman, Spanish, and other civilizations of the Mediterranean. The popularity of Sicilian cooking makes it easy to experience its distinctive flavors in restaurants scattered across New York.

Listed below are some that offer traditional Sicilian cuisine often with innovative touches that make it even more relevant in the new millennium.


Upper East Side

Italianissimo
307 East 84th Street
212-628-8603
italianissimoristorante-hub.com

The name of the restaurant says it all. Italianissimo (or “very Italian”) Ristorante offers a wide variety of Sicilian specialties. Start with an appetizer of homemade bread, pesto, and olives and sip on excel- lent wine produced in Sicily. If you want a typical Sicilian first course, there is no doubt about what to choose: the fettucine alla siciliana with eggplant, tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella. Finally, why not end the meal with a superb pistachio ice cream?

East Village
Cacio e Vino
80 2nd Avenue
(212) 228- 3269
www.cacioevino.com

Cacio e Vino, in the heart of the East Village, was conceived by owner Gi- usto Priola, who found inspiration in the words of Goethe: “Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the soul.” (“L’Italia senza la Sicilia non lascia nello spirito immagine alcuna.”) The restaurant is made even more charming by the paintings hung on the brick walls that evoke the beautiful land of Sicily. The extensive menu consists of sev- eral dishes that recall the flavors of Sicily. To start, try an appetizer with caponata (fried vegetables seasoned with a sweet and sour sauce) and panelle (fritters made from chickpea flour), followed by a pasta with tuna, capers, olives, and tomatoes. You can also opt for a plate of grilled fish with octopus, tuna, squid, shrimp, and clams, all sea- soned with oregano. Before leaving the restaurant enveloped in the perfume of Sicily, you must try the cassata siciliana (sweetened ricotta, sponge cake, marizpan, and candied fruit).

Chelsea
Bar Eolo
190 7th Avenue
(646) 225-6606
eolonewyork.com
 

In the lively neighborhood of Chel- sea, you will find the wine bar, Bar Eolo, which also offers an extensive menu of Sicilian food. At the head of the restaurant is chef Melissa, whose love for Sicilian cooking was passed down to her by her Sicilian grand- mother from Sant’Anna, in the province of Agrigento. As an appetizer, try the panu cunsatu (warm bread with olive oil), which you could follow up with delicious ragù, meatballs, or tagliatelle with rabbit sauce. Before leaving, be sure to try the sfinci, a Si- cilian doughnut stuffed with ricotta or orange and vanilla cream.
 

Restivo Ristorante
209 7th Avenue
(212) 366-4133
restivorestaurant.com

Mix together rigatoni, tomato sauce, eggplant, capers, and ricotta and you get the “Restivo Rigatoni.” A culinary specialty that takes its name from the restaurant located in Chelsea and run by the Restivo family. You should def- initely try the fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil. It’s a small room with less than 50 seats, which makes it an intimate environment suitable for a work lunch or a candlelight dinner.
 

Soho
Piccola Cucina Osteria
196 Spring Street
(646) 478-7488
piccolacucinaenotecanyc.com

The success of Piccola Cucina Oste- ria is tied to the creativity of chef Philip Guardione, a true Sicilian, who in a short time has been able to bring the flavors of authentic Sicilian food to the Big Apple. An intimate and welcoming location in which you can enjoy exquisite dishes. Start with a caponata of swordfish prepared in the style of Palermo or sardines alla beccafico with fennel and oranges. A plate of spaghetti with squid ink sauce is a sure bet as well.

Flatiron District
Zio Ristorante
17 West 19th Street
(212) 352-1700
zio-nyc.com

At a short distance from the el- egant Flatiron building, you’ll find Zio Ristorante, a cool place that in- troduces Mediterranean cooking with hints of innovation thanks to the creativity of chefs Max Convertini and Robero Manfe. You’ll get authentic and fresh products served by a friendly and hospitable staff. Start your meal with an appetizer made of eggplant, smoked mozzarella, sauce and arugula, and later, enjoy a flavorful tuna steak with fennel, caponata, and stuffed zucchini flowers. Want dessert? Get the cheesecake with ricotta, blueberries, and chocolate!

Little Italy
Da Nico Ristorante
164 Mulberry Street
(212) 352-1700
danicoristorante.com

Like eggplant Parmesan? Da Nico is the perfect place to try a superb ver- sion along with other specialties, like traditional minestrone soup of mixed vegetables or spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs. The chicken with mushrooms and Marsala wine is also worth a try. This homely place in Little Italy is waiting for you to stop by and spend a pleasant part of your day in the company of Nico’s excellent cooking.
 

Forno Siciliano
43-19 Ditmars Blvd
(718) 267-0790
 fornosicilianoastoria.com

Forno Siciliano is a piece of Sicily a short distance from chaotic Manhat- tan where one can savor delectable Sicilian cuisine. Located in Astoria, a traditional Italian neighborhood, the restaurant is run by a family from the province of Palermo that, for years, has been committed to offering Sicil- ian food and spreading the knowledge of Sicily’s culinary art. Once you enter Forno Siciliano, your eyes are immediately drawn to a series of Sicilian icons, like the famous Sicilian cart or the large, colorful wall paintings de- picting scenes of the island in all its beauty. Popular dishes include the delicious penne alla siciliana with tomato sauce, ricotta and eggplant, or the veal boscaiolo with mushrooms, pancetta, and Marsala sauce. This meal can be concluded with a great homemade tiramisù.

Brooklyn Cobble Hill
Ferdinando’s Focacceria
151 Union Street
(718) 855-1545

If you find yourself walking along Columbia Street near the waterfront in Brooklyn and you hear Frank Sina- tra in the distance, or smell freshly baked warm bread, then you are near a Sicilian restaurant as special as its owner, Francesco Buffa. The restaurant is Ferdinando’s Focacceria, named after Francesco’s father-in- law , who devoted his life to teaching his family the art of Sicilian cooking. Opened in 1904 in the heart of what was once Brooklyn’s Little Italy, the place has remained much the same, giving it a touch of retro “Made in Sicily.” You can choose from differ- ent specialties like antipasto rustico (rustic appetizers) with a sun-dried tomato base, grilled eggplant, and caponata accompanied by warm bread. Or even arancini, rice balls full of meat and topped with ricotta and tomato sauce. But the signature dish is Palermo’s vastedde, a mix of spleen, ricotta, and grated cacioca- vallo cheese on a seeded Sicilian bun that will make your mouth water. To finish, fabulous cannoli with ricotta.

Brooklyn Park Slope
Bella Gioia
209 4th Avenue
(347) 223-4176
bellagioianyc.com

Bella Gioia is the ideal place to recover your energy after jogging in Park Slope with a wonderful Sicil- ian dish prepared by the chef and owner, Nico. His passion for cooking was inspired and fostered by his parents and grandparents in Sicily. Your meal would be incomplete without a plate of fresh pasta with sardines and wild fennel or orecchiette with to- mato sauce, eggplant, and Parmesan cheese. For those who desire a lighter meal, there is a tasty orange and fen- nel salad. your lunch or dinner with a delicious pistachio gelato, a digestive walk through the historic streets of this once Italian neighborhood pro- vides the perfect end to a delicious time at Bella Gioia.

Brooklyn Gravesend
Joe’s of Avenue U
287 Avenue U
(718) 449-9285
http://joesofavenueu.com

If you are looking for a place to eat excellent Sicilian food, then Joe’s of Avenue U is for you. A very wel- coming tavola calda restaurant that embodies the best of sicilianità (or “Sicilian-ness”): with symbols and images of the island that will make you forget you’re in New York. A glance behind the counter will un- cover delicious dishes such as lasa- gna with meatballs and linguine ai frutti di mare (with mussels, clams, cherry tomatoes, garlic), which you could order along with an octopus salad. Try the stuffed artichoke and the meatballs seasoned with walnuts, raisins, and pine nuts. If you’re craving something more substantial, you can try the involt- ini: breaded veal cutlets rolled with cheese and bacon, and pair it with a nice glass of homemade red wine.
 

Brooklyn Bensonhurst
Il Colosseo
7704 18th Avenue
(718) 234-3663

Although named after the famous monument in the center of Rome, Il Colosseo — located at the heart of Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard — is a Sicilian-owned family restaurant. Always busy, it sports a large wood- burning oven used to churn out delicious pizzas. Il Colosseo offers a variety of Italian specialties in- cluding, obviously, a few signature Sicilian dishes. We suggest getting a plate of pasta with olive pesto and ricotta. If you love fish, the grilled octopus is highly recommended. For dessert, do not hesitate to order the panettone with almonds, especial- ly around Christmas. Good Italian wine values by the glass.

Staten Island
Enoteca Maria
27 Hyatt Street
(718) 447-2777
www.enotecamaria.com

Enjoy the ferry ride to Staten Island and admire the sunset on your way to a very special place: l’Enoteca di Maria. Only a five-min- ute walk from the ferry terminal, this small restaurant allows you to enjoy traditional cooking just like your nonna used to make. What’s even better is that there is a dif- ferent Italian grandmother in the kitchen each day of the week. Each cook comes from a different part of Italy and prepares specialties from her own region. Nonna Nina, of Sicilian origin, will amaze you with her lasagna or her pasta with grilled eggplant. And what about trying a typical Sicilian aromatic ragù with rabbit meat?

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